The Dec. 6 article “Seaweed industry divided over concerns about pace of growth in Maine” presented Seaweed Commons and its first position paper as anti-aquaculture. I wish to clarify that position and raise the public visibility of aquaculture regulation.

Seaweed Commons is a global community of coastal stakeholders, small farmers, wild harvesters, marine biologists and researchers who share common cause with Maine lobstermen and fishermen.

The principles espoused by Seaweed Commons are shared by many aquaculture operators in the state. We want a locally owned, conservation-minded and suitably sited sector; regulations limiting farm or lease size, and prioritized access for Mainers.

Small seaweed farms can fit harmoniously with the culture and ecology of our small towns and bays. Like many places on our planet where native seaweed forests thrive – Norway, Ireland, Scotland, northern Japan, Alaska, British Columbia and Chile – Maine shares a common history of fisheries decline for decades because of industrial overfishing and climate change. We are also the areas targeted by multinational investors.

Yes, Maine’s cold water, abundant forests of rockweed and talented workforce make it a great place for seaweed aquaculture, but that does not mean that a “corporate roadmap” of headlong aquaculture intensification is in the best interest of the state or our marine ecology.

The central setting for the Dec. 6 article was the Seagriculture Conference in Portland last September. There, dozens of presentations laid out proposals for large-scale seaweed biofuels, robotic farming between off-shore windmills, multimillion-dollar carbon-sequestering startups and other proposals from global business interests. Mainers need to know what is on the horizon for seaweed intensification.


Maine Aquaculture Association does its diverse constituents a disservice by representing the whole of the aquaculture industry as an uncontroversial and incontrovertible force for good. Locally owned and operated oyster, shellfish and seaweed operations have little in common with the business practices of “big-A” finfish aquaculture or with salmon farms; the only commercial salmon farm operator in the state, Cooke Aquaculture, operates in 18 countries.

What our industries share is the public trust waters governed by Department of Marine Resources decision-making, and the fallout, pollution and impacts of inadequate regulation.

We don’t need an association to make decisions “for us,” we need good information and reporting so we can participate in rulemaking and pressure our regulatory bodies to protect us from corporate-driven boom and bust.

Public records of Cooke Aquaculture’s poor disease control, use of forbidden chemicals and release of fish could help us evaluate the dangers of such operations. In 2022, Cooke had its license to operate in Washington state rescinded. Repeat violations caused public outrage. And yet, via the Maine Aquaculture Association, Cooke has a powerful lobbying voice in our State House and in the press.

The companies applying to place net pens and on-land salmon operations along the Maine coast are attracted by the cheap price tag and low regulatory barriers our state puts on its waters.

A vibrant reputation and market for Maine’s seaweed will depend on the ecological credibility of our sector and the rules we set for the sector. We must prevent GMO kelp from contaminating our native and diverse kelp populations. We have a duty to evaluate and help update the rules in our shared waters, prioritizing wide public and stakeholder participation – to create an accessible, fair and diverse seaweed sector so we do not blindly follow the finfish model of intensification and industrialization.

Groups like Maine Seaweed Council, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Maine Seaweed Exchange, Maine Natural History Observatory and Maine Seagrant must evaluate and help update the rules in our shared waters, prioritizing wide public and stakeholder participation to create an accessible, fair and diverse seaweed sector.

We must urgently act to protect the livelihoods and regulatory frameworks that support sustainable stewardship of our coastline, our shared waters, local businesses and our seaweed commons. If that means taking the reins back from corporate lobbying efforts – so be it.

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