As fishermen seek to make up for cuts in quotas for cod and other fish in New England, a new sustainability challenge is emerging along the coast of Maine — in the form of a humble sea grass called rockweed. As the Globe recently reported, the annual seaweed harvest has doubled since 2007 to 15 million pounds. Nearly all of it is rockweed, which clings to rocks in the intertidal zone. It can be harvested, then chopped up for use in fertilizer, animal feed, cosmetics, and nutritional supplements.
So far, the current level of harvesting appears sustainable; scientists have not yet found any long-term damaging effects, and rockweed regenerates rapidly. But careful observation and management now should help avoid environmental damage — and strict regulations — in the future. Wisely, Maine officials have convened a 13-member team to propose regulations to assure that rockweed harvesting does not become underwater clear-cutting. It’s a sensible way to keep a promising rockweed industry afloat.