Maine Ruling Protects Rockweed, Angers Harvesters

A court ruling last spring has placed large areas of rockweed—a common marine algae found along the intertidal zone—off-limits to commercial harvesters along the Maine coast.

Rockweed is processed for food, supplements, and pharmaceuticals, and used to be fair game for harvesters. However, the new law states that rockweed is the property of shoreland owners, and harvesters will need their permission to collect it.

Harvesters argue that rockweed is a public resource, similar to fisheries, and that the ruling contradicts decades of precedent. Indeed, some harvesters have called the decision “a death sentence” for their business.

For their part, landowners and conservationists hold that rockweed plays a critical role in the marine ecosystem, and that laws about rockweed have always been vague and unsettled. They also argue that rockweed, being an algae or plant, is not subject to the same laws as other marine resources managed by the state.