COLUMBIA — With the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s recent ruling affirming that rockweed growing in the intertidal zone is private property, it is incumbent for coastal towns to levy property taxes and the state to develop tax policies that incentivize intertidal industries.

Intertidal lands are owned; they need to be taxed. The Colonial ordinance that was the basis for the ruling, despite a violent revolution that overthrew Colonial governance, was put in place to incentivize the development of shorefront infrastructure to support economic growth. In keeping with that, we must create tax policies that recognize the economic value of those lands for Maine’s marine sector, specifically the shellfish aquaculture and algae extraction industries. Taxes on intertidal lands and tax incentive systems similar to tree growth programs used in forestry will give shorefront landowners incentive to make their lands available for commercial access.

Intertidal lands are a vast and vital infrastructure for Maine’s economy in the face of rapid and catastrophic ecological change.  The Gulf of Maine is the fastest-warming body of water in the world, and Maine’s entrepreneurial workers need access to intertidal lands for our waterfront economy to adapt.

Lobster, Maine’s largest and most valuable fishery, often lauded for its sustainability, is dependent on healthy marine ecosystems for bait: 2 pounds bait for every pound of catch, sourced from all over the world.  The oceans are changing, absorbing carbon dioxide and heat from the atmosphere, and the federal government has slashed the herring quota because of a low level of newly born fish, creating a crisis for the lobster industry. Rising bait costs have already led to cutbacks in crew that have left people in my community unemployed and searching for other work.

Our second largest fishery, clamming, with 1/25th the value of lobster, has seen diminishing landings largely because of predation by the invasive green crab.  Simple aquaculture gear and seeding efforts can control predation and increase yields, both for clams and other valuable bivalve species. In the face of changing ocean chemistry, shellfish hatcheries create controlled conditions for the vital larval stages of shellfish growth.

We have existing methodologies for intertidal shellfish aquaculture, and there is enormous room for innovation. It’s a booming business is other states and around the globe, but our ability to place gear in the intertidal zone is controlled by shorefront landowners who often oppose both intertidal and deep-water aquaculture proposals for solely aesthetic reasons; They don’t want to look at it.

Central to intertidal land disputes is the rockweed fishery. Contrary to the vocal and misleading campaign against it by a small group of shorefront landowners opposing its harvest, marine algae extraction is the most sustainable industry in Maine’s waters. Not only is it freakishly regenerative and abundant, but it also has direct impacts in combating climate change: It is extracting nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the ocean and sequestering it in soils, and as an animal feed supplement, it reduces cattle methane emissions by up to 80 percent, researchers in California and Australia have found. Marine algae extraction is an existing commercially viable industry that captures oceanic carbon and creates products that remediate the greenhouse-gas emissions of a major global polluter.

In Maine, with the largest coastline in the lower 48 states and the highest tides, rockweed is a vast resource – it grows on any intertidal particle large enough to anchor it in place. Along our coastline, we have the infrastructure to develop this industry, and it is incumbent on us to do so. The law court has affirmed intertidal land ownership, and we need taxes and tax incentive programs that recognize the economic value of those lands beyond the scenic views. Call Maine “Vacationland” for marketing purposes, but we need policies that support the people who live and work here.


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