GOULDSBORO — Early one morning in late August, several residents on Paul Bunyan Road in the village of Corea made it clear what they thought of the rockweed harvesters plying the waters of Long Mill Cove.
One homeowner clad only in a robe stood on the rocky shore in front of his home on Gouldsboro Bay and shouted to the harvesters for Acadian Seaplants.
Others took to the water in kayaks and with cameras, snapping photos and taking videos, all the while shooing the harvesters away as they raked from their skiffs.
To say the harvesting of rockweed in Long Mill Pond and Cove is a hot-button issue locally is putting it tepidly.
Selectmen Sept. 24 signed a letter to the Department of Marine Resources supporting the declaration of Long Mill Cove and Pond a special habitat in need of protection.
Rockweed, or Ascophyllum nodosum, comprises more than 95 percent of seaweed landings in Maine and is used as a nutrient for plants and animals.
Known for its pea-size air bladders, the seaweed reproduces March through June in intertidal zones, protected coves and open areas.
The selectmen wrote Commissioner Patrick Keliher that the location already has been designated a significant wildlife habitat under the state Natural Resources Protection Act.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is tasked under the Natural Resources Protection Act with identifying areas in need of protection.
“Long Mill Cove meets our criteria because of the number of sandpipers and plovers that use that area for roosting,” said Lindsay Tudor, a wildlife biologist with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The selectmen said the designation requires property owners to obtain state permits before construction in these areas and prohibits residents from disturbing the migrating shorebirds that are roosting and bulking up in preparation for their long transoceanic flight.
“None of the regulations and supportive actions that property owners face apply to the rockweed harvesters,” the selectmen wrote. “Neighbors have already noted a decline in the numbers of shorebirds that roost here.”
Tudor said the issue is that fisheries — among them seaweed harvesters — are exempt from the Natural Resources Protection Act.
An Acadian Seaplants spokesman said later that the harvesters were told to steer clear of the Long Mill Cove area and they haven’t been seen since.
In the meantime, all concerned are awaiting a decision by Keliher on what, if any, areas should be designated off limits to rockweed harvesters.
In January 2014, the Rockweed Fishery Management Plan Development Team, made up of conservationists, academics and harvesters, issued a report on the issue.
The recommendations included, among others, maintaining a 16-inch cutting height, implementing coast wide sector management and designating no harvest areas.
Another recommendation was to form a working group to create guidelines for establishing areas along Maine’s coast that are closed to harvesting rockweed.
The Legislature was presented with the fishery plan, the first of more to come on lobsters and other marine resources.
Keliher appointed a five-member working group to outline criteria for ecologically sensitive areas that should be closed to rockweed harvesting.
Chris Vonderweidt, a spokesman for the Department of Marine Resources, said the working group has not yet submitted its report.
“Hopefully that report will be available in the next few months,” he said.
The commissioner then will weigh all recommendations and develop proposed regulations based on advice from the Attorney General’s Office and comments by the public.
Tudor of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said Keliher has agreed to consider her department’s recommendations for areas that should be closed to rockweed harvesting.
Long Mill Cove is one of more than 400 such areas that Tudor said her department is recommending be off limits to rockweed harvesters.