In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

harvesting rockweed

Rockweed grows along the shore of the island's western cove. Rockweed is inter-tidal. It grows on the boulders that line the cove, gripping the rocks' hard surface with its holdfasts. It lives in the sea, but then twice a day the sea ebbs away from its home. Then its environment changes, and it lies along the shore exposed to direct sunlight and air. The rising tide will lift it up and set it to swaying back and forth again for several hours. It does well in the coves and harbours along the southwest Nova Scotia coast.
Rockweed is harvested by hand, using a rake that prunes the plant without damaging its holdfast. The harvesters stand in their wide, deep boats, cutting and lifting the Rockweed in one continuous motion. It takes several hours to fill a boat. Raymond Symonds, the harvester I met yesterday, said he would have 10,000 to 12,000 pounds in his boat by the time he had finished for the day. A boat filled with Rockweed rides very low in the water and must be navigated carefully back to the dock to be unloaded.
Raymond was kind enough to visit with me for a while as he filled his boat. He is from nearby, from around Barrington. He has been harvesting Rockweed and Irish Moss since he was fourteen years old. He goes lobstering until the end of May when the lobster season ends. After the lobster season he harvests Rockweed.

"It's not hard," he told me. But it looks hard, standing in your boat, braced against the rocking of the waves, reaching down into the water and cutting the Rockweed and lifting it up and flipping it from the rake into the bottom of the boat, without losing your balance, over and over and over again. It is a beautiful sight to watch, though, like something from an earlier time.

Rockweed has an intrinsic value in the marine environment, providing a refuge and a nursery for any manner of marine life. This 1996 article from Fundy Notes describes how Rockweed flourishes in its challenging environment and contributes to it, and raises questions about the long-term effect of harvesting this "maritime treasure."

Acadian Seaplants now has the contract for all Rockweed harvesting along the southwest coast of Nova Scotia. The Acadian Seaplants web site explains the company's approach to sustainable harvesting, and also tells you how Rockweed is used in products manufactured all over the world. The harvesting of Rockweed and other seaweeds is important to the economy of southwestern Nova Scotia, and Acadian Seaplants is proud of its research-based good practices.

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