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April 19, 2018

Mechanical rockweed harvesting sparks concerns on Deer Isle

Courtesy / Acadian Seaplants
Courtesy / Acadian Seaplants
Jean-Paul Deveau, president of Acadian Seaplants, a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, company that employs 50 rockweed harvesters and five full-time employees in Downeast Maine. The company plans to harvest rockweed off Deer Isle this fall by using a mechanical harvester.

Residents of Stonington and Deer Isle expressed concern about noise from the machinery used to harvest rockweed in their area, as well as the potential for bycatch and the impact of harvesting on biodiversity.

Island Advantages reported that Acadian Seaplants, a company headquartered in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, plans to harvest rockweed in the area this fall. The company hand-harvested until last year, when it added mechanical harvesting.

At a community meeting on the matter, Merritt Carey, director of Maine operations for Acadian Seaplants, said the company would work to reduce the noise, which increases as the boat's engine heats up. Her claim that there was virtually no bycatch associated with mechanized harvesting was challenged by many attendees.

Acadian Seaplants, one of the world's largest rockweed harvesters, is doing business as usual until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court reviews documents related to a lower court's ruling that would prevent it from harvesting rockweed in the state's intertidal zones without permission of the owner.

"Our position is that harvesters are in boat floaters in the water and use rakes to harvest," Jean-Paul Deveau, president of Acadian Seaplants, told Mainebiz last July. The company in March lost a case brought by several Washington County landowners who said they owned the rights to the intertidal zone, the area between high and low tides. Ownership rights in that area have been in hot contention between landowners and seaweed harvesters for decades. Deveau said the ramifications if the court decides against the company are substantial: "We get a substantial amount of our rockweed from Maine. We'd still be able to operate, but I think companies in Maine could go out of business."

Acadian has 400 employees worldwide in about 12 countries, 35 researchers on staff and a dozen scientists to do R&D on marine plants from resource management to manufacturing.

Founded in 1981, Acadian Seaplants uses rockweed and other seaweeds for animal feed supplements, crop biostimulants and nutritional products

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