Today I Am 55

By Larch On October 13th, 2000

Today I am 55. Since 1970, I have lived on a peninsula named Dyer Neck, looking out to the westward on Gouldsboro Bay, and beyond that, Cadillac Mountain, part of Acadia National Park. Many of you have been to Bar Harbor which is 30 miles southwest of here. Every year since 1974, I have harvested seaweeds, primarily for food and medicine. Included are three types of kelp: laminaria longricruris, laminaria digitata, laminaria saccarina. In addition, I harvest alaria esculenta, dulse, irish moss, nori, and three types of bladderwrack: fucus spiralis, fucus vesiculosis, and fucus edentata. I also harvest ascophyllum nodosum (rockweed) for fertilizer.

I work within a four mile radius of home, and in practical terms this means that I range over thirty miles of shoreline on Gouldsboro Bay, Dyer Bay and the Sally Islands which stretch across the mouths of these bays. Within this territory, I harvest every seaweed bed that SHOULD be harvested for human food and medicine, believing that 1) These plants belong to humanity, and I am a steward, 2) It is possible to harvest these plants in such a way that they regenerate each year, 3) It is possible to train apprentices who can be installed in other similar niches on the coast of Maine, (my apprentice of five years, Matt Spurlock, is living testimony to this belief as he now works on his own in Frenchman Bay; it is my life’s work to train more apprentices until the entire coastline is harmoniously populated by skilled harvesters who understand the process of regeneration), 4) There should be limited entry for seaweed harvesters through an apprenticeship program, 5) Each trained harvester should choose an exclusive territory and appropriate species, stick with it, report his/her work to Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, and be held accountable, 6) There should be a marine extension agent who oversees the annual seaweed harvest and provides continuing education for licensed harvesters.

To those people who are concerned about environmental issues such as the loss of habitat for marine life and the loss of biomass as a result of my harvesting efforts, I would say this: My annual harvest, April through October, is a constant number, that is, I produce a total of 6000 dried pounds of seaweed for human food and medicine.

Visualize a sixteen foot long container boat. 30 container boatloads of seaweed dry out to produce 6000 dried pounds. This averages out to one boatload of seaweed harvested per mile of shoreline in my territory per year. That is my total impact, and it all grows back! The container boatload I’m describing is approximately 50 bushels of seaweed, or 2000 wet pounds harvested per mile of shoreline. This boatload of seaweed will dry out to 200 dried pounds of medicine, food, or fertilizer.

My working concept of a kelp plant is that it has a three year lifespan, and thus I primarily harvest the three year old plants on the surface at low tide which would be lost to winter storms anyway. This strategy has worked pretty well. A11 of my kelp beds have regenerated each year except the kelp beds destroyed by draggers. I pay attention to maintaining a slow flow rate through the beds so that the kelp spores can settle and attach to bottom in order to create new plants, and I avoid allowing too much sunlight to penetrate the beds because this will change local water temperatures and invite other heat-loving species to take over the beds. I do not believe that divers or draggers should be allowed to harvest kelp beds because they can destroy smaller plants on the bottom which a surface harvester cannot reach at low tide. The resource is not that plentiful.

Alaria plants grow at two levels in the surf at low tide. Annual alaria plants are in the upper zone, and these will be totally destroyed by winter storms. I harvest the annual zone. The perennial zone plants grow deeper, and they hang on through winter. I do not harvest them at all. They provide spores to repopulate the upper annual zone.

I harvest dulse, bladderwrack and rockweed with a “loose hand”. This allows 50% of the plant bed to remain in place. The idea is to leave the bed looking as though no one ever was there. This is an acquired skill, passed from baymaster to apprentice.

Candace once asked Matt how long it would take for him to learn what I knew about harvesting, and he replied, “Five years.” Last winter Matt built his own boats at my house, and this past spring he built his own drying racks and building. The next step is to convert Maine Seaweed to a harvester’s co-op so that all of us can truly work together to provide you with seaweeds from some of the cleanest ocean water on the continent.

At the present time, half of the harvest goes to herbalists for tinctures and supplements, half goes to cooks and people who eat raw foods. Some lower grades of seaweed are chopped for animal supplementation and fertilizer. Scraps go to our own greenhouses. Nothing is wasted.

I want to thank Candace for the cooking, packaging, shipping and phone work she did this past year.  I want my daughter Sarah to know how much I enjoyed working with her in the boats this summer. The next boat gets named after you: Surfy Dancer. I want my sons Jay and David to know that we have a special bond, felt on the water, that erases the boundaries between life and death. Trust that bond. I want to thank Scot the seal for the good work he did in the surf this year. And Zack: Come back! I want Matt to know how proud I am of his growth and accomplishments during the past five years. Carrie, I miss your cheerful presence. I want you to come back and create your niche here on the crew. To the Circle of Friends and the would-be apprentices: Come visit! Life is short! If you don’t come this year when will you come?

I’m hungry to see your faces and hold your hands in the glad silence of grace at the table.

Rest in the Light, Abide in the Heart.