Who Owns Rockweed?

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of videos that have been produced by COA students, alums, and our partners on coastal and ocean issues focused on downeast Maine.  In addition to Ellie Oldach’s video , we give links to several other sources, and past COA student posts on the rockweed issue. – Chris Petersen and Aliza Leit ’21

Who owns intertidal marine resources in Maine? And how will this impact harvest, conservation, and research? In this short film, UC Davis graduate student and COA alum, Ellie Oldach, discusses the recent privatization of rockweed with researchers Chris Petersen of College of the Atlantic and Hannah Webber of the Schoodic Institute.


We wanted to provide more context to understand the conversations in the film. Several things had been done in Frenchman Bay before this video was created:

Chris and Hannah have been conducting research on rockweed in Frenchman Bay since 2016, following a Frenchman Bay Partners stakeholder meeting in Sullivan Maine. At that meeting, it became clear to stakeholders that even the most basic questions about rockweed in Frenchman Bay, such as how fast it grows here and what the current biomass is, were unknown.

In response to this uncertainty, Frenchman Bay Partners decided to make rockweed a conservation target, and began to develop a conservation action plan for the species.  This plan focused on what was needed to understand the ecology of rockweed in Frenchman Bay. The plan did not take an anti- or pro-harvest stance, but instead asked how to determine what “sustainable harvest” might mean for the bay and how such an idea could be realized.

Following up on this meeting, Hannah and Chris launched a research project on Frenchman Bay rockweed. This research included measuring growth rate and size of plants around the bay, along with an estimate of biomass for each of 15 sites. In addition, at several sites, they simulated harvest by cutting rockweed to its legal limit of 16 inches.  That research is ongoing, with probes at several sites collecting temperature and light data on both control areas and areas with simulated harvest.  Those data should be collected through 2020, and reported out in 2021.  Chris and Hannah also offered a ‘Rockweed Rodeo‘ in Sullivan in May, 2017, to explain to local residents the research they were conducting in the bay.

Finally, here is a perspective from Camden Hunt, a student in the 2019 COA course Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities on the initial court ruling and before the Maine Supreme Court and decided the appeal of the case.

Hannah Webber is currently doing her Ph.D. research as part of the project CRASSH
Conserving Rockweed Animal Systems for a Sustainable Harvest.
This work is being led by University of Maine professors Amanda Klemmer and Brian Olsen and Maine Maritime Academy professor Jessica Muhlin

Other resources on rockweed:

A Fish Called Rockweed by Ben Goldfarb.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension Rockweed Fact Sheet

The Rockweed Coalition/ Save our Seaweed

Post created by Aliza Leit ’21, Ellie Oldach ’15 and Chris Petersen

About marinestudiesatcoa

Chris is a professor of marine ecology and policy at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine
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