PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Seaweed harvesting is a growing business in Maine.
More than 14 million pounds were harvested last year. When turned into retail products it represents a 20 million dollar a year industry.
Now there is a fight over who owns the seaweed in the waters along Maine’s coast. It’s a fight that has gone all the way to the state’s highest court. The decision could have wide-ranging implications for a growing Maine industry.
“The overall commercial harvesting for seaweed for different uses employs in the hundreds and the businesses are dealing in the millions,” said George Seaver, vice president of the Maine Seaweed Council.
Harvesters say the state and its citizens own it.
“The state owns intertidal waters and the living marine resources attached to or embedded in private intertidal land,” said Ben Leoni, attorney for a Nova Scotia harvester.
But some shorefront property owners say intertidal zones where it’s being harvested is private property and should be off limits to seaweed businesses.
“Plants that are attached and growing on private property are owned by the property owner”, attorney Gordon Smith argued on behalf of the property owners.
At issue, in this case, is Rockweed, which is attached to rocks on private property. It is the predominant kind of seaweed harvested by commercial operations
“There’s never been anybody concerned about it until this court case,” Seaver said.
If the property owners win they could block harvesting on their property or charge business a fee to do it. The attorney representing them says it's about conserving the marine habitat. Seaver sees it as the continuation of a longstanding rift along the coast.
“There’s this kind of underlying tension between the long history of the working waterfront in Maine and frankly people moving here because it’s beautiful and they’d just as soon not anything going on in front of their place,” he said.
The property owners won the first round when a superior court judge ruled in their favor blocking a Nova Scotia company from harvesting in intertidal zones off the coast of Pembroke and Roque Island in downeast Maine. Now justices of the Maine Supreme Court will decide if that ruling should stand.