This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Renewable Natural Resource: Who Owns It?

"This is one of those absurd questions where you get tied up in definitions that are not relevant."
"This [seaweed, Ascophyolum nodosum] is a perfectly good photosynthetic organism, and it's a plant."
Professor David Garbary, biologist, St.Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia

"Our operation is absolutely sustainable. We have done an inordinate amount of scientific research and publishing of papers to support what we are saying."
"There's not a lot of opportunities for people in places like Washington Country. A vast majority of people will say, 'You know, this is a good thing'." 
"I really struggle when a special interest group can go and make it very, very difficult for an industry to exist. Particularly when the industry is very, very well managed and everybody’s working together to ensure the sustainability of this resource into the future."
"This seaweed will be here forever, the way we’re managing it. After 40 years of harvesting in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, there is no issue."
Jean-Paul Deveau, president, Acadian Seaplants, Halifax

"I was brought up on the coast [of Maine], and have watched it for 80 years. I know what happened to the gulls and eagles."
"They are depleted, almost gone. Cod are gone. I don't want to take jobs from anyone, but we've got to protect the coast."
"It might be better if it were publicly owned and responsibly managed. But the state was doing exactly the opposite. It’s in collusion with the industry that is exploiting it and doing it without adequate scientific support."
"We think we’re doing more by protecting the habitat and protecting the protective rockweed than they are by cutting it down. We’re providing more longterm benefits to the local fisheries than they are."
Kenneth Ross, 80, retired political science professor, oceanfront property owner

"Acadian is extremely rigorous. We monitor every single ounce [of seaweed harvested]."
"When we hit that 17 percent, we tell the harvester, that's it. Get out of there."
Merritt Carey, head, Maine operations, Acadian Seaplants

"This is a habitat that needs to be protected for its ecological services, not cut down to be sold four cents a pound for fertilizer."
"The highest value for the rockweed is in the water."
Robin Hadlock Seeley, scientist who has researched the effects of rockweed harvesting in Maine 

"There’s nothing wrong with doing the studies, [on potential ecological damage] but I don’t know if we want to deprive people of their livelihood because you think there might be something wrong."
"Particularly if you can’t name what that something might be."
Louis Druehl, professor emeritus, Simon Fraser University, expert in seaweed biology
There is, evidently, some disagreement between good friends and neighbours. Those good friends being residents who live across the border from one another. Where local Maine residents deplore the harvesting of seaplants by a Canadian company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, warning that it harms the biosphere. As it happens, Maine has no lack of Maine-based seaweed harvesters. No word on whether their concern over their harvesting of seaweed to be made into other consumer products has resulted in a court challenge. And here's the story:
From fresh and frozen kelp for chefs and powdered seaweed blends and liquid extracts for people, animals and plants, to salty-sweet seaweed snack bars and melt-in-your-mouth smoked dulse, Maine seaweed companies offer a wide range of products that begin with Gulf of Maine seaweeds. Species utilized include Dulse (Palmaria palmata), Sugar Kelp (Saccharina latissima), Rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum), Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca), Laver or Nori (Porphyra species), Alaria (Alaria esculenta), Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus), Fingered or Horsetail Kelp (Laminaria digitata).
Some seaweed companies in Maine have been in business for decades, and some are quite new. They range in size from one-person artisanal operations to larger companies with national and global business. Many were started as family businesses, and most of these remain this way, in some cases passing down from one generation to the next. 
Maine Seaweed Companies

Yet another jurisdictional dispute between American citizens who love their natural surroundings in Maine, landowners along the most northeastern coast of the United States, and a seaweed harvesting company out of Nova Scotia. The Bay of Fundy tides, known to be the highest in the world, daily thrash the shoreline, bringing with it living jewels of the sea, crabs, clams, all manner of sea creatures which also thrive in the shelter of the seaweed densely packed along Maine's shoreline where harvesters in small boats use three-metre rakes to cut and pull aboard seaweed for the Nova Scotia fertilizer company they work for in a state where unemployment is too high.

When property owners look out their windows and see those harvesters at work hauling in seaweed, they feel stricken at the loss of something valuable being taken from the natural environment that thrives on the coast and which they feel deprives the other living organisms in that flourishing habitat, upsetting the ecosystem beyond repair. Acadian Seaweed, the company that gives employment to these Maine employees is not viewed with kind regard by Maine property owners who deplore what they feel is the ravishing of a natural resource for no good reason.

They have decided to take the matter before the Maine Supreme Court which will decide whether seaweed should be considered a plant, making it the property of the complainants, or an animal like a fish or a clam in which case it could be harvested by anyone, as fish from the sea are regarded. Fish are mobile, after all, can be born elsewhere and return to spawn where they were born. Lawyers for both parties have been reduced to arguing the merits of considering the seaweed an animal or a plant; the former benefiting Acadian Seaweed, the latter the grievers, Maine landowners.

In Lubec Maine, a town of 1,300 residents, countless complaints come in to municipal offices over the issue. The chief administrator barely knows what to do, and certainly has no handle on who should be doing what, legally. A puzzlement shared by the marine police who tend to shrug away the issue if and when it is broached. "It's a big circle. Around and around we go", a frustrated Renee Gray remarks.

Seaweed features large in trendy initiatives, with food items such as kelp smoothies, health food supplements, beer additives, weight-loss promises and even cosmetics. They are featured as potential biofuels and a source of food for a hungry planet with a growing population. Not, however, rockweed, which is the seaweed in contention in Maine. Acadian Seaplants is a 37-year-old industry commercially processing rockweed, operating in Iceland, Ireland, the U.S. and Scotland, with six processing plants worldwide, the largest marine plant processor in North America.

The company has 28 people employed in Maine to work along the coastlines at high tide. It is hard work harvesting seaweed. Those engaged in the work can earn $55 a ton, considered good earnings in the state. The hauls are hoisted into a transfer boat to Canada, dried and ground to a powder or liquid to be used for plant fertilizer and animal feed. Maine residents are convinced harvesting the seaweed disturbs the 'nurseries' sheltering and feeding a wide array of fish and wildlife. In the easternmost U.S. town on the continent, and Lubec residents are determined to stop the aquatic carnage.

In this undated handout photo provided by Source, Inc., a Gavin Hood uses a “truth pipe” to measure plants to make sure workers are meeting cut height restrictions of rockweed harvested on the Maine coast. (AP Photo/Source Inc.)
According to state records the harvest, which began along the Maine shoreline in 1999 when Mainers began being hired as harvesters, has grown from 131,000 pounds in 2000 to 20 million tons gathered last year. Retiree Kenneth Ross wants it stopped. His cabin sits on a bluff over mud flats where clammers dig with rakes for crabs, clams and winkles at low tide. Local laws permit clammers to enter private property to hunt for aquatic life left high and dry by the tide to be harvested. It is a situation not loved by Mr. Ross when Acadian argues rockweed represents wild marine stock like the clams or fish waiting to be harvested by anyone.

They argue as well that leaving the environment in good condition is also their commitment as they follow state regulations and snip 16 inches above the bottom of the weed, enabling it to regrow, and take care to ensure harvesting only 17 percent of seaweed mass in any one area. And Acadian's Deveau stresses that jobs and environmental protection should be fairly balanced, most particularly so in the poorest county in Maine. It is left to be seen whether the Maine Supreme Court will agree with them.
Rockweed is a very common seaweed found along the coast of the northeastern U.S. and the Maritimes in Canada (Shaina Luck/CBC)

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