Who Owns the Rockweed?

Authentic Relationships: the Rockweed Story

Talk to a CEO of a rockweed harvesting company, and sooner or later s/he will mention the controversy that is arising wherever natives on the shoreline and rockweed harvesters in the intertidal zone intersect: Who owns the rockweed? Is it the property of the exclusive wealthy upland owners or the equally aristocratic board of directors for a conservation land trust who claim rockweed should be withheld from human use for conservation purposes, aesthetic principles, or amorphous research ? Or is it the corporation that establishes a monopoly on the resource through backroom deals with another corporation, the State of Maine via the Department of Marine Resources, claiming that rockweed is a fishery in line with the Public Trust Doctrine, going back to a time when the king owned everything and granted the right of “fishing, fowling, and navigation” in the intertidal zone so that taxable commerce would develop? This corporation then “employs” (i.e. promises jobs) for seaweed harvesters who are “licensed” into wage slavery by the Department of Marine Resources.

Is rockweed a fish just because it’s categorized as a marine organism under a fishery statute? Is rockweed critical canopy habitat and estuary, bottom of the food chain that nourishes all other life in the ocean? Does rockweed help prevent ocean acidification? What about when it decomposes? Is it better to use some of the rockweed to create a deeper green in the fields on the land? No one has looked at the whole picture. Is rockweed the collective property of commoners who use it to fertilize their gardens and compost piles and claim to have “an ocean of minerals in my bloodstream that need to be balanced and maintained by access to the sea plants that grow in the commons of the intertidal zone”?

When the British colonialists tried to tax salt in India, Gandhi understood that last choice, and set out on his famous march to the sea, to directly make sea salt, defying the British imperialists. Gandhi knew where the commons was located in the Indian native’s body, mind and heart.

“You cannot cut me off from the sea. It’s out there, but it’s also in me. We are not two!” That’s how my Japanese friends feel about it.

How many Commoners do we have in society anyway? Well, today it’s 98.5% workers, students, soldiers. In feudal times, it was 98.5% peasants, laborers, conscripts…..

Fine. How many Top Professionals? Today it’s .75% doctors, entertainers, clergy. In feudal times, it was .75% Vassals: tenant farmers, military officers, etc. Great.

How many Top Bureaucrats? .2% commissioners, departmental secretaries, judges, and in feudal times, it was .2% Merchants: traders, explorers, East India Trading Company. Going toward the top of the power pyramid, how many Elected Officials? Again, .2% President and representatives, and in feudal times .2% Royal Ministers: chancellors, constables,sheriffs. OK, who has even more authority to call the shots, now that we have international trade? .35% of the population is Corporate Elite in the multinational corporations Fortune 500 club, and in feudal times, .35% were Clergy: archbishops and priests. .0001% of the population are Big Bankers: JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Lloyd’s of London, and in feudal times, .0001% were Landed Gentry: Dukes, Earls, Barons. Finally, at the top of the power pyramid, in modern times .00001% of the population is Central Bankers: the Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan, ECB, etc., and in feudal times .00001% of the population was Monarchs: Kings, Queens, Emperors. Much has changed, but we still have a class society of commoners and aristocrats.

So, chummy, who do you think ultimately owns the intertidal commons? Can you think of a document in history where the Crown, for instance, ceded the land itself to the commoners? In Ireland, the Landed Gentry created the theater of “tenants rights,” but did the Crown ever actually cede the land…..to anyone? More about that later. In this country, the commoners wrote a Constitution, and the Crown viewed it as a commercial charter so that the latest group of rebel upstarts could continue to do business with the Monarch. In the Jay treaty, ratified by the Senate meeting in secret as a Committee of the Whole (our version of the aristocratic House of Lords), our government agreed to pay war reparations to the British for damage done to British monied interests in this country during the so-called War of Independence. The Monarch essentially said, “Go ahead and have your House of Representatives, if you must. After all, we have a House of Commons. And assemble your Senate. We have our Lords. It’s all very entertaining. But when it comes to banking and business, let us train your legal staff in English law so that when you stir up the usual forms of hatred and distrust through your adversarial court system*, and attempt to own each other’s time and labor through various banking schemes of indebtedness, the insurance companies writing the policies will continue to be backed by Lloyd’s of London and its affiliates, and the money will continue to flow back through the Big Banks toward the Monarch, excuse me, Central Banks. Money makes our world go ‘round.”

*(At the Nuremberg war trials, Hermann Göring, founder of the Gestapo, testified that Hitler installed judges who would stir up ethnic hatreds amongst various groups of people, and he came to power on a wave of hatred. He commented that at the end of the war, the Allies disassembled Germany, but they did not reach to the judiciary to remove those judges that Hitler had installed. Goring predicted that the hatreds would arise in the people once again. This is a method the aristocracy uses to rule the commoners: keep them embroiled in adversarial styles of communication, weaken them through endless arguments; divide and conquer. Seaweed companies waste their time fighting among themselves about which sector the Department of Marine Resources will dole out to them; meanwhile, the deeper issue of actual stewardship of the intertidal commons by true natives is ignored.)

In Ireland, the landed gentry looked out upon the waterfront property, and as the land was gradually leased to vassals, the commoners who worked the land and shoreline claimed “tenants rights” in the intertidal zone. This simply became a right through “custom and tradition,” but there was very little coherent documentation of the process, and again, where would one find the initial document that proved the Crown ceded anything in the intertidal zone to the landed gentry? It was all theater, and the commoners worked out their boundaries through informal means. Licensing wasn’t considered to be important, just as in Maine 40 years ago, there was no licensing. “If you can get down to the shore and make a go of it, more power to you, Cappy! Knock yourself out!” That was the attitude when I moved to Maine in 1970. But what is happening in Ireland today? Today, multinational corporations are trying to establish monopolies of the rockweed resource by asking the government to “license the resource” (“give us the absolute rights to harvest a sector,” in other words, and that sector can encompass 75% of the country’s resource) and the commoners are suddenly feeling motivated to “apply for a license so we won’t lose our rights”. If the commoners understood how they are manipulated by the aristocracy into believing the theater of just-paper licensing systems, they would simply rediscover the Charter of the Forest which established that the King is forbidden to destroy or privatize the commons, and they would write a modern-day Charter of the Intertidal Commons that asserts the same rights of the people as the Charter of the Forest: “Corporations cannot be licensed, only natural persons.” In Maine, this would begin with local gardeners associations that locally self-regulate the harvest of rockweed through use of a local warden system. More about this later.

As you probably have guessed by now, I usually start thinking about this issue of ownership of the intertidal commons with questions that are outside the box, like, “Well, who used it before white man appeared?” White man introduced a system of law in which Native Americans were not viewed as persons. Women were scarcely persons. Until a Supreme Court decision of 1975, women did not even have a legal right to serve on juries. Native Americans had no property rights in our country. They were seen as just wanderers in an untamed wilderness. Hard-working colonists could create value where there was none by turning that same wilderness toward commercial use. This has become the industrialization of nature. There are journals kept by early Dutch traders in which they record their attempts to convert Native Americans from a gifting culture (that was the true meaning of wampum: “I desire to enter into a relationship of giving gifts to you, just as the Great Spirit gifts us all with Life”) to a trading culture (“you owe me time and labor”) based upon money. “What is the difference between a native educator introducing a newcomer to the resources of the commons vs. a nonresident trader who seeks to own the commons based upon licensing and money?” (Hint: “It all turns on affection” vs. “You owe me”) And then I think, “Who uses it now, and is it wise use?” and “What is the shortest hauling path toward happiness for the most people?” and “What about the 150 other species that depend upon rockweed for food and shelter?” Any of these questions could lead to the start of an elevated conversation about direct local use of the intertidal commons or green business, much like the gestalt therapist who starts out a conversation by saying, “Gestalt therapy addresses the tendency of a person to avoid contact with self, others, and the environment.” Either conversation can eventually lead the participants toward making more CONTACT with rockweed and avoiding the pitfall of “careless seeing” and the ruin of natural habitat. Wherever I go, talking with people who are involved with rockweed as a vested interest, I find that they are avoiding contact, in one way or another. There is always something about their line of reasoning that is exclusive, inauthentic and narrow in scope.

Once I heard a psychotherapist being interviewed on NPR, and she said, “I can get my clients to talk about their deepest darkest secrets. But money? Money is the last frontier. Nobody talks straight about money.” I thought to myself, “Of course. How could anyone talk straight about money? Money begins with a deception, the banker’s sleight of hand, creating money out of thin air with the stroke of a pen or the keystroke of a computer. Money is loaned into existence, and thus the banker asserts a claim on our time, labor and property.

Sir Josiah Stamp, a former president of the Bank of England, once explained the essence of modern banking: “The modern banking system manufactures money out of nothing. The process is perhaps the most astounding piece of sleight of hand that was ever invented. Banking was conceived in inequity and born in sin….Bankers own the earth. Take it away from them but leave them the power to create money, and, with a flick of a pen, they will create enough money to buy it back again….Take this great power away from them and all great fortunes like mine will disappear – and they ought to disappear, – for then this would be a better and happier world to live in….But, if you want to continue to be the slaves of bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, then let bankers continue to create money and control credit.”

Listen to a group of CEO’s talking about rockweed, and it finally comes down to money. Not gardening, not ending hunger, not true accountable sustainability based upon careful seeing, not careful methods of measurement in the intertidal commons that are easy and transparent for everyone in the community to witness. In other words, CEO’s avoid the idea of locals stewarding the resource. Why? Owner/operators don’t make good compliant wage-slaves.

One day I was in a used book store, and I picked up a Manual of Procedures for Court Martial that was written by an army colonel. In the introduction to the book, the colonel wrote that “the purpose of these procedures is to convince the soldier that he has had his day in court”. It isn’t often that an official unmasks and makes an admission like that, but there it was. In other words, the process is all theater. The outcome has already been decided in the judge’s chambers. And in the end, the soldier loses some part of his life, liberty, and/or property without an authentic trial.

Money is all theater, too. My Grandpa Martin was somewhat free of the theater of money. By the time I knew him, he was a retired-into-town farmer in southwest Minnesota, and he was elected as county commissioner, representing his old farming neighborhood, for 20 years. He couldn’t be bought. He was also the treasurer for the country church where he had gone all his life, and Sunday afternoons, after Grandma Betsy had served our dinner, Grandpa would empty the cash bag from the church collection plate. I would count stacks of coins and Grandpa would enter the totals in the treasurer’s accounts book. I was learning the theater of money.

Grandpa put me on his payroll: “Your job is to study at school. Every time you get an A on your report card, I’ll give you five dollars. If you get a B, four dollars. If you get a C, we’ll talk about it.” Most of the time, I got A’s and B’s. But one day I came home with a C in science. “What’s the trouble?” Grandpa asked. “Well,” I said, “Mr. Russet said to me, ‘You don’t want to be a ditch digger when you grow up, do you?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ve seen my grandpa do some pretty intelligent things with a shovel….” Grandpa said, “OK. Button your lip next time.” And that’s what I saw my Grandpa often doing, when people sat around the table. He would sit with his elbows on the table, and his right thumb was pressed against his lower lip, as if to say, “My lips are sealed, until I think it’s wise to say something here.” Then, when he spoke, people listened to him. He was, in fact, an excellent example of a wise village elder.

Grandpa opened up a joint savings account with me, and he taught me to save. He loaned money to farmers on a wink and a handshake. I saw him forgive loans when a farmer came on hard times. “Aw, you’ve had hard luck. Pay me when you can,” he would say, knowing that could be a long time. He was free enough of the theater of money to be able to follow his heart.

Grandpa and Leonard, the local banker, were good friends. I’d see them sit down in the afternoon to have a drink and a conversation, and they would talk about who needed help. Grandpa charged less than bank interest when he loaned money. After all, he didn’t have a bank and clerks to pay. Leonard knew it. Leonard admitted, “You can help people, with your lower interest rates, that I can’t help. We can work together.”

Oftentimes people would ask Grandpa to be the executor for their estate. After the person died, the family would come to Grandpa and sit around the dining room table while he explained the will. Sometimes there were disagreements about money. Grandpa would say to them, “The most valuable asset you have in this family is your relationships of trust. I want to help you build them stronger. I’m willing to sit here as long as it takes to iron out hard feelings. I don’t want anyone to leave here feeling angry or betrayed.”

One summer Grandpa said to me, “Come with me. We have a job to do, and you’re going to get paid. We’re going to mow the church yard and the cemetery.” As we mowed around the tombstones, Grandpa told me stories about the people who were buried there, and the farms they belonged to. He was preserving “memory of place”……and passing it on to me.

One day while we were mowing, Grandpa went in the outhouse, and he yelled out to me, “There’s no toilet paper in here! See what you can find.” I was a boy of small imagination, and I came back empty-handed. “Grandpa, I can’t find anything.” There was a long pause. Grandpa said, “Oh, alright….” Then my imagination started to work a little bit as I wondered what Grandpa would do. He came out of the outhouse. I said, “Grandpa, what did you do?” He got right up in my face, and his eyes were twinkling. “I wiped my ass on a five dollar bill. It’s just paper, and don’t you forget it.” That day, Grandpa took everything he had taught me about careful handling of money, and he turned it on its head. He let me know that “it’s all theater”.


Anyone who is a resident in Maine can buy a just-paper license to harvest seaweed. Last year I paid $58 for that piece of just-paper. Forty years ago when I started my career as a harvester, there were no licenses. After licenses were instituted, did it help me to harvest more sustainably? Absolutely not. What kept me honest was the fact that I was the only harvester in the beds where I worked, and I knew that I had to be accountable to the resource and to myself, or else next year, there would be a declining resource. Whenever someone else would appear on the horizon, I would say to that person, “Let me train you as my apprentice, and then you can find a niche on the coast and start your own business.” As I said, I’m an educator at heart, and I like to see my students discover how to become self-sufficient and self-regulating adults.

Once they heard that I train apprentices, lots of people showed up to help, and lots of people learned the limits of the resource. It takes an apprentice three years to really understand how their actions impact the plants. The first year, they simply learn the motions of the work. I’m 69, and they are studying an old man’s economy of motion. There’s something to be said for that. The second year, they go back to the same places, and they notice how much the beds have come back to fullness, or not. This is when they start to understand why kelp beds are put into two year rotation. The third year, they harvest kelp beds where they worked the first year, and they now have a sense of how long it takes for kelp beds to fully regenerate. They also come to understand why slower-growing digitata kelp beds are put into three year rotation. Apprentices begin to realize that being self-employed is not like working for someone else. It requires taking absolute responsibility. It requires deep lifetime commitment. It requires staying in good shape and developing a healthy diet and lifestyle. When there’s a problem, I can’t leave it at the office for someone else to solve. It’s mine, and mine alone.

I know a man who was arrested for digging clams without a license. When he was brought before the judge by the warden, he represented himself in court. He knew that no lawyer would have the courage to question the irrelevance of the state top-down licensing system and assert that the intertidal zone is actually part of the commons. Don’t get me wrong: local systems of stewarding are necessary, based upon direct community observation in real time. This man had a keen sense of “the theater of paper money and paper licenses” which did not result in creation of locally organized methods to ensure sustainability of the resource. The warden was his accuser, so he called the warden to testify. He said to the warden, “I’m not digging to sell. Do you think a man has a right to feed his family, digging clams?” The warden started to hesitate, and the judge interrupted the testimony and said to the warden, “I’ll handle this.” So the defendant said to the judge, “Do you think it’s a crime to dig clams without a license?” The judge said, “Yes, I do.” The defendant said, “But if I pay some of your cronies down in Augusta for a piece of paper, then I can go out and commit the crime?” For a moment, the monkey wrench stopped the gears. Then the judge flared and said, “Ten days in jail for contempt of court.”

The story doesn’t end there. The defendant was taken to a county jail in the sheriff’s jurisdiction. The defendant knew that this was a charge of civil contempt, not criminal contempt, and the defendant was intelligent enough, if he was given access to pen and paper and the post office, to file an appeal that would have asserted his right to a trial before a jury of his peers before any loss of liberty or property could occur. After all, that district court judge had abdicated his role as an impartial judge/referee when he halted the warden’s testimony. The defendant had the right to pursue his claim that the intertidal zone is part of the commons, and that one does not need a commercial license to dig clams in the commons if one is simply providing the necessities for one’s family. Any appeal, timely filed, would have resulted in his immediate release, based on the defendant’s right to a trial in which he is judged by his peers in a court with an impartial judge, his right to face and question his accuser (the warden), and his right to participate in the commons without interference from the State. The judge interrupted the process; he ceased to be an impartial referee. The transcript, upon appeal, would witness to that fact.

But it turns out that the sheriff had a “rule” that a prisoner did not have to be given access to the court system for the first 24 hours of incarceration while being “processed”. What that amounted to was that the defendant was placed in a brightly lighted and cold cell and kept awake by noise and intrusion for 24 hours around the clock. Then the defendant was transferred to the jurisdiction of the state highway patrol and transported to another jail where the same “rule” for “processing” was applied once again, preventing the defendant from filing an appeal. (Is this what people mean when they say “the rule of law”? I’m being sarcastic.) This process of daily transfer and continuous sleep deprivation went on for ten days. He was tortured, in other words, by being continually kept in motion in squad cars from one jurisdiction to another, and someone in power (not the sheriff, not the trooper) was orchestrating it, depriving him of the writ of habeas, the right to face one’s accuser in a court room in the presence of one’s peers with due process of law. I knew this man, and I would call the state advocate for prisoners and ask, “Where is he now?” The advocate’s information was always 24 hours stale. He really didn’t know, in other words. I finally managed to visit the defendant, half way through the ordeal, and I found him to be in good humor, as always.

The Dalai Lama is like that, too. In one sentence, the Dalai Lama will be describing graphic scenes of the genocide of his people by the Chinese, like a scene where a child in the family is forced by Chinese soldiers to torture or pull the trigger on the father in front of the family, and two sentences later the Dalai Lama will chuckle and say, “But Chinese food……very good!” You see, in both the defendant and the Dalai Lama, there is this knowing that “It is all dream. Money and licensing, it is all theater. It is all mass hallucination, and people are trapped in it by their miseducation and conditioning.” These extraordinary individuals maintain a daily spiritual practice that develops quiet calm humor, spacious detachment, presence, clarity, compassion, conscience, and light. Let me be clear: these are not the primary values of market capitalism! For another account by an individual who went “ten days without sleep,” see Larry Rosenberg’s book, Breath by Breath.)

The Magna Carta (also called The Charter of Liberties, The Great Charter)

(See Noam Chomsky – Destroying the Commons)

The eminent jurist William Blackstone published the first scholarly edition of the Magna Carta which established civil and human rights. Blackstone’s edition actually consists of two charters. It was entitled “The Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest”. The first, the Charter of Liberties, is widely recognized to be the foundation of the fundamental rights of the English-speaking peoples. Parliament’s Petition of Right reaffirmed that the law is sovereign, not the King. The Charter of Liberties was enriched by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. The most famous part of the Charter of Liberties is Article 39, which declares that “no free man” shall be punished in any way, “nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.” During 10-days-without-sleep in the above account, the defendant’s right of habeas corpus was suspended, his right of civil appeal was suspended, and he was tortured through daily rendition back and forth between the highway patrol’s jurisdiction and the sheriff’s jurisdiction. What’s missing here? This is post-legal America. The President can now decide who to kill via drone warfare through administrative deliberations, labeling a citizen “enemy combatant” or “terrorist”…..thereby suspending the civil right of habeas.  One of my former apprentices became a lawyer working for ACLU, and he reports that he spends his time bringing lawsuits against the government.  A recent case involved the government holding a man prisoner for twelve years at Guantanamo without even charging him, keeping him alive through forced tube-feeding.  We defeat ourselves in this way.

A Corporation is a Fictitious Entity that Lacks the True Accountability of Individual Human Conscience; Conscience Does Not Operate in a Group

An elderly Jewish nurse in Miami, told this story: “I was a nurse in the Warsaw ghetto when the Nazis started rounding up Jews and putting them in train boxcars to be taken to the camps and exterminated. I jumped from the boxcar while the train was in motion, thinking that I was jumping to my death, but I rolled and survived. I went back to the ghetto. After all, they were my people, and I was a nurse. Where else could I go?

I wanted to care for them. I hid on the rooftops of buildings. In those days, there wasn’t a unified electrical system. Each building had its own generator. Sometimes the soldiers would come up to the roof to check the generator, and I would be caught. If it was a single soldier, I could glance at his eyes and say, ‘Well, do what you have to do,’ and he would let me go! But if it was two soldiers, that line didn’t work. You see, conscience operates in an individual heart, but it is often silenced by the group.” The second time she was caught, she jumped again, and survived. The third time, she gave up and rode the train to the camp, thinking she was riding to her death. The camp was liberated before she could be exterminated, and today her story serves as an example when I say to corporate officials and CEO’s, “You know, there’s no such thing as conscience in a corporation driven by the profit motive. It only operates in an individual, if at all.”

Rogerian non-directive, non-judgmental listening

When I was in college, my mother was a widow and a school teacher who taught fifth grade for over 25 years. She taught me to get up at 5 in the morning and do my homework while my mind was clear after a good night’s sleep. I owe her for that.

I didn’t want to take money from her for my college, so I decided to work my way through college. I went to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and I worked four 3-11 p.m. shifts per week as an orderly in a neurology/physical therapy ward at St. Luke’s Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, just across the bridge over the Red River from Moorhead.

My boss in nursing was a sturdy middle-aged woman who strode around the hospital with her sleeves rolled up as if to say, “I come from a long line of nurses who wade in and get the job done. I’m right there with you, any time you need to talk to me.” My work was to continue the exercises prescribed for physical therapy, and after the exercises were completed, I was told to give each of my male patients a massage and to listen to him.

My boss trained me in an invaluable skill. In those days it was called “Rogerian non-directive and non-judgmental listening” after Carl Rogers who developed the method. You see, if we direct people, they can’t bring their deepest problems up to the surface where they can self-reflect upon them, and if we judge people, they can’t perceive us as a possible source of help. In my role as an orderly, my job was to listen and help my patients to let go of their mental, emotional and physical tensions. Then there was more potential for healing. If I listened, they opened up. If I judged, they closed down. The word I used most often in this process was “uh-huh”. So here’s how it worked, one night as I was rubbing this man’s back. Call him Joe.

L: What do you do? (standing at the head of the bed, stroking down his back)
J: I'm a projectionist at a small theater in a little town in North Dakota.
L: Uh-huh. (pause, to let him know that I'm hearing, then new stroke, from neck down to area of kidneys, and I take an audible breath, let it out, reminding him to breathe, and pause) What's that like?
J: Well, I go into the theater around 6 p.m., and after I open up, I put on the first reel for 7 p.m.
L: Uh-huh. (massaging upper shoulders, my hands saying to his body, "let it go")
J: And then there's a little door from the projection room to an apartment next door....
L: Uh-huh (hands continue to work without missing a beat)
J: And I have a woman friend, and we spend time together.
L: (voice expresses a little chirp of delight) Ah! (shoulders are getting relaxed, so, not missing a beat, going to side of bed and moving on to strokes that pull toward center, one hand after the other, from the sides of his ribcage toward center, and making no comments, just listening, listening, listening, helping him relax and unload; I pause and squirt lotion on my hands) Have you known her a long time?
J: About twenty years.
L: Uh-huh. So after the first reel?...... (refocusing)
J: Oh. Well then I put on the second reel, and we spend more time together. Then I go back and wrap up the second reel, and I go home.
L: You have family? (steadily working strokes on lower back, nicely loosening) Take a breath here, where my hands are.
J: (breathing deeply, letting go) Yeah, I have a wife and a daughter.
L: Good! (strokes continue steadily toward softening lower back)
J: Yeah, my daughter is 16.
L: Uh-huh.
J: Yeah, my mistress knows I have a wife and daughter, but my wife and daughter don't know about her.
L: Uh-huh. (No change in voice, just continuing to work down the back of the hamstrings, letting him know that I'm steadily at work to help him let it all go.)
J: (long pause, as I work down his calves) I don't know why I'm telling you this! I've never told anyone this before!
L: (no change in voice, just continuing to work steadily on one foot, then the other) Oh. Uh-huh. (as in "it's no big deal; life is like this") Turn over and I'll work your arms.

Joe turns over. My face remains simply open, soft and relaxed. I don’t look directly at his eyes. I’m inviting him to have a private moment of self-reflection. He’s a heart patient with an irregular rhythm. It’s no wonder. He’s had to close his heart with his wife and daughter for twenty years. With more lotion squirted on my hands, I take his left hand and arm and stroke toward his heart. He says, “You know, if at the end of your life, you can count three good friends that you have really taken care of, you’re a lucky man.” He and I both know which three friends he is talking about: his wife, his daughter, and his mistress. I rub his upper arms, chest, and belly, and leave my face open and intent on the work of staying Present. When people are at their worst, that’s when they need our love the most, and not our judgments. That’s the skill, at its best.

One windy-cold and sunny day in April, I went to a rockweed company and I bought a load of dried rockweed. The owner came out and yelled at me, “I hear that you’ve been calling us roving pirates! Roving pirates! Where do you get that idea?” He proceeded to shout at me like a bully. I decided to go into Rogerian listening mode, and I waited for the cold air to have its effect. Finally, he cooled off a bit, and when I asked him to explain how he measured the biomass of rockweed, he opened up and began to talk numbers and percentages. I got out paper and pencil and said, “I want to write this down, so that I will understand. Check my numbers and let me know if I’m getting it right.” This is a version of Rogerian nonjudgmental listening. I put myself in the subservient role of “taking dictation”. Finally, he made a comment about “17% biomass removal”. This is the number that’s being touted as “sustainable” by the Canadian company, Acadian Seaplants Ltd. I asked him what he thought about that number. His comment was “Half that number is more like it. You don’t want to run along the hairy edge.” Later, when I wrote about that comment, he denied that he had ever said that, and he threatened to sue me. In other words, he went back into bully mode. That’s OK. It doesn’t really matter, because I’ve thought about rockweed quite a bit, after 40 years of working with it, and I’ve come to my own conclusions about how it can be managed just as conservatively as he described, but through local control, and be put to good use toward the goal of ending hunger and malnutrition, while at the same time preserving three feet depth of canopy habitat for the sake of supporting other fisheries.

The Charter of the Forest

(See Noam Chomsky – Destroying the Commons)

Next to the Magna Carta (the people are the sovereigns, not the king), the second charter, the Charter of the Forest, is no less profound and perhaps even more pertinent today. The Charter of the Forest demanded protection of the commons from external power. In early days, that was the royalty. (Over the years, “royalty” has become enclosures and other forms of privatization by predatory corporations and the state authorities who cooperate with them.) The commons were the source of sustenance for the general population: their fuel, their food, their construction materials, land for grazing and agriculture and hunting, whatever was essential for life. The forest was no primitive wilderness. It had been carefully developed over generations, maintained in common through “custom and tradition” not unlike Wendell Berry’s description of farmers creating and holding a collective memory of place through storytelling. The riches of the forest were available to all, and preserved for future generations — practices found today primarily in traditional societies that are under threat throughout the world.

The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to privatization. The commons was protected from transfer to the hands of private power for service to wealth, not needs. By the seventeenth century, however, this Charter had fallen victim to the rise of the commodity economy and capitalist practice and morality. With the commons no longer protected for cooperative nurturing and use, the rights of the common people were restricted to what could not be privatized, a category that continues to shrink to virtual invisibility.

The post-Civil War fourteenth amendment granted the rights of persons to former slaves, though mostly in theory. At the same time, it created a new category of persons with rights: corporations. In fact, almost all the cases brought to the courts under the fourteenth amendment had to do with corporate rights, and by a century ago, they had determined that these collectivist legal fictions, established and sustained by state power, had the full rights of persons of flesh and blood; in fact, far greater rights, thanks to their scale, immortality, and protection of limited liability. Their rights and their appetites by now far transcend those of mere humans.

At a meeting of the Maine Seaweed Council, I was sitting across the table from a CEO for Acadian Seaplants Ltd. and I said to the man, “17% biomass removal per year is an odd number. How did you arrive at that? When you say that you take 17% of the biomass of rockweed each year, don’t you really mean that you take 50% of the biomass in one year, and then leave it alone for three years?” He agreed with me! After all, we were all owners of seaweed companies, and this was a relaxed meal at table. But nevertheless, the numbers are all made-up. In Nova Scotia, the number was 35%, and that resulted in a “pulse” of product. (That’s how scientist Raul Ugarte who works for Acadian Seaplants Ltd. described it. I’ve read other scientists like Vandermeulen speaking about the scorched earth war in Nova Scotia between the Canadians and the Norwegians, describing it as 85% biomass removal.) In other words, Raul’s choice of the word “pulse” was like the oilman who needs to guarantee a steady flow of oil in order to attract investment. The mortgage payment is a constant, and the product flow has to be constant. After the Nova Scotia experience where the pump went dry and infrastructure had to be moved (which included banishing the Norwegian mechanical harvesters back to Norway), moving on to New Brunswick, the made-up number in New Brunswick was “17%” and ASL decided to introduce rake harvesting. But guess what? In corporate life, there are no genes for satiety! There is never a sense of “enough”. So ASL expanded toward the U.S. and Ireland as well. Roving pirates! Prepare to be boarded!

There’s another made-up number, too, and that is the myth of the random harvester.

I say the random harvester is a myth because just like any other natural creature, if you actually track a boatman, he tends to work in sheltered estuaries away from the elements as much as possible. Migrating geese or fish seeking cover, it’s all the same. They all seek shelter in protected estuaries, as much as possible. But for the sake of the argument, if the mythical random harvester wanders over a bed, taking the mythical 17% of the biomass, 100% of the biomass divided by 17% is 6, and so you will find Raul writing for ASL that the chances of a harvester cutting the same plant twice is one in (you guessed it) six. Keep all this in mind when I get around to talking about truly sustainable management of the resource that preserves canopy structure in the habitat.

Continue reading An Authentic Relationship to Rockweed