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Seaweeds, or more properly, intertidal macroalgae have never been easy to classify—by law or by science: they are not part of the animal kingdom, nor part of the plant kingdom (and scientific controversies about their phylogenetic placement abound), they are not completely on terra firma, nor completely submerged in ocean water. One such organism that exists at the space in between land and sea—the brown alga commonly known as Rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) presents an intriguing legal question with implications that extend far beyond the shoreline. Recently, in Ross v. Acadian Seaplants Ltd. , the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (Court) ruled that Rockweed located within the intertidal zone is the property of the adjacent upland property owner, and therefore the public cannot enter intertidal lands to harvest Rockweed as a matter of right—a right that has been preserved for the harvest of shellfish species, fish species, and bird species. The legal status of Rockweed is important to the scientists that study its ecological benefits, the harvesters that collect it for commercial purposes, the state agency concerned with its sustainable management as a marine resource, and the coastal landowners that assert that seaweed is their private property. This article explores the legal justification for—and practical resource management issues associated with—the Court’s decision to treat a marine organism such as Rockweed that derives its nutrients from ocean water and not through a root system as private property.

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