“Am I a conscious seaweed consumer? Of course!” you say with pride. “All my seaweed is sustainably sourced.”
But...is it really?
Let’s unpack this by having a very important discussion about sourcing and the concept of sustainability.
Consider this question: What natural-resource-based industries have self-regulated to create truly sustainable systems for themselves, by themselves?
Human history has shown, unequivocally, that free-market control of natural resources leads to failure. Any time you hear of a resource “bouncing back” it’s because of third party monitoring and controls being put in place.
How does this relate to Maine and our seaweed?
Maine’s seaweed industry is essentially self-regulated and highly mismanaged. Locally, Seaweed is a legally Recognized Fishery, just like Lobster, Cod, or Scallops, yet it goes completely unmonitored. You never see harvest-limit alerts or closures, and that’s not because they shouldn’t exist; it’s because no one is in a position to make that judgement. The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) doesn’t have the information, people-power, ability to survey, history of harvest, history of an area....and on and on...to evaluate the health of the fishery. They are the smallest agency in the state whose representatives consistently speak of being “underfunded and understaffed”.
We’re NOT criticizing the DMR. We’re simply saying that we can’t expect ocean health, restoration and/or true sustainability of our fisheries if the agency charged with stewarding the ocean doesn’t have the resources they need to effectively do so.
The Maine Seaweed Council--virtually an industry trade group--is too easily trusted and heavily relied upon to guide DMR policy that they directly prosper from (Boeing and the FAA anyone?).
The industry uses words like “sustainable” without any holistic 3rd party assessments of the ecosystem or biomass. The overwhelming majority of the coast is open to all harvesters as a free-for-all foraging space. And in Cobscook Bay, where companies control individual harvesting areas known as sectors, each company is responsible for their own evaluation of their own sector. Wait, what?!?!
Seaweed landings are self-reported (if reported at all) and the public has no visibility into individual harvester consumption or locations. For some reason this is considered private information. Again, what?! Why?
Let’s be clear: we would love to see the growth of a sustainable seaweed industry. We look forward to being a part of its development. But we can’t do any of this if the wild resource is taken for granted, and we can’t look ourselves in the mirror if we look the other way. We’re at an interesting point with North American Seaweeds because the levy has yet to break. But just because it hasn’t broken, we can’t pretend the water isn’t rising. Just like we can no longer pretend #ClimateChange isn’t real.
Are you willing to bet that we’ll still have a “plenty” of wild seaweed in 20 years from now if the fishery remains self-regulated?
We are not.