ELLSWORTH, Maine — As the National Park Service expands its reach on the Schoodic Peninsula, the ripple effects are causing alarm in the intertidal zone around Acadia National Park.
Marine harvesters who work in this zone, collecting seaweed, mussels, periwinkles, clams or worms between the high and low tide lines, complain that Acadia officials are cracking down, forcing them to dump out anything taken from tidal flats inside the park and not letting them use park property to access abutting intertidal zones.
On Wednesday night, at a forum at Ellsworth City Hall organized by U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, worm diggers and other harvesters said they had gone about their business on the tidal flats for years without drawing any attention from park officials, even though park rules don’t allow such commercial activity. In the past couple of years, however, that has changed.
Some diggers said they have been turned away from areas where they had plied their trade for decades. Andrea DeFrancesco, a longtime seaweed harvester from Franklin, said she’s been told she can no longer land her harvest on park property, forcing her to use a rowboat launched from access points outside the park to get to and from kelp beds.
“This all makes us uneasy,” Dan Harrington, a worm digger from Woolwich, told Poliquin. “Every aspect of it.”
Park spokesman John Kelly said rangers have not taken a heavy hand with harvesters. He said recently that there was one incident in the past year in which a park ranger told a digger to dump out his buckets on a tidal flat inside the park. Kelly said the ranger was correct in his interpretation of the law, which prohibits the removal of park resources — whether trees, clams or cobblestones.
However, according to Kelly, there was never a formal decision by Acadia’s management to start enforcing the “do not disturb” law on its tidal flats. In light of the outcry, he added, park officials have decided to allow marine harvesting on tidal flats for now while they work with harvester groups and state fishery officials to come up with a workable compromise.
“Right now, we’re listening and learning and not taking any other action,” Kelly said.
Nevertheless, Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Winter Harbor selectman, said the recent expansion of the park on the Schoodic Peninsula has raised concerns among intertidal harvesters there. For 30 years, he said, towns surrounding the park had assumed a 1986 law that set a boundary limit for the park would prevent encroachment of federal land-use rules on locally regulated activities. But then last fall the park went around that law to add 1,400 acres on the peninsula to its holdings.
“They still acquired it,” Faulkingham said.
Billy Johnson, a harvester from Hancock, said he is concerned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns and manages the more than 8,400 acres of islands and shoreland that comprise the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, also could decide to restrict traditional intertidal harvesting activity.
“What’s to stop them from doing the same thing?” he asked.
Johnson and others at the meeting compared Acadia’s exercising its authority over the surrounding tidal flats with the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Penobscot County, saying each action amounts to a “land grab” by the federal government.
“Nobody wanted [the new national monument], but now we’ve got it,” Johnson said, even though many Mainers have expressed support for the monument’s creation.
Poliquin told Johnson that he hopes to prevent any further expansion of federal land-use restrictions in Maine. He added he and other members of Maine’s congressional delegation are working on legislation to prevent any future expansion of Acadia beyond its 1986 boundaries unless that expansion passes Congress.
“We need to make sure you can work on those flats,” Poliquin said.
In a prepared statement issued earlier this month, Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher seemed to side with the harvesters in their dispute with Acadia’s rangers. “[We] have had several conversations over with National Park Service staff since last fall and those conversations will continue,” Keliher said. “The DMR has communicated its concern about the National Park Service’s prohibition on shellfish and worm harvesting. The DMR is working to make sure that the National Park Service appreciates the economic and cultural value of the local commercial harvesting industry.”
Adding to the controversy is a patchwork of deeds that identifies different markers for where Acadia National Park’s shoreland ends. Some deeds say some park parcels end at the high tide line; others specify the low-tide line. A few are ambiguous.