Maine lawmakers are considering passage of a new law which would effectively ban foraging. Commercial harvesting of wild mushrooms and ostrich fern fiddleheads has created an atmosphere of chaos.
Commercial harvesters often violate their privilege of harvesting on private land. When this all began, I feared that the actions of a few bad apples might unjustly reflect upon all of us who do no harm.
The sad truth is, most of us don’t cause any harm whatsoever. In addition, ostrich fern fiddleheads are only one in a long list of wild edibles. We who pick stinging nettles, dock, wintercress, fireweed shoots, common cattails and any number of items that few people are even acquainted with are doomed to suffer because of the harmful actions of a few. But when any wild product (the bill is aimed at mushrooms and fiddleheads, but because it is so poorly worded, it by necessity covers all edible wild plants) becomes the target of a commercial industry, problems are sure to follow.
In years past I used to go to the sea and with a long-handled net, harvest sea urchins for my own personal use. Do that now and wind up in jail. Ditto for baby eels. And the list goes on.
But we who are honest should not have to pay for the harm imposed by commercial interests.
I have included, below, the text of the proposed new regulations. They are Draconian to a fault.
Hopefully, we foragers can come together and convince lawmakers to refine the language of their new law so that it only deals with mushrooms and fiddleheads. Again, hardly anyone except for we few foragers care about or are even familiar with the great body of wildlings that we enjoy harvesting and eating.
Here’s hoping that we can act in time to avert this needless disaster.
Besides writing freelance pieces for a number of magazines, Tom Seymour is also a regular columnist and feature writer for The Maine Sportsman Magazine, New England’s largest circulation outdoor magazine. Additionally, he is a regular contributor to Fisherman’s Voice Magazine, specializing in maritime history and human-interest stories. Finally, I write several columns for Courier Publication newspapers, including a home-and-garden column called From The Ground Up.
My book credits include Wild Plants of Maine, A Useful Guide, Hidden World Revealed, Musings of A Maine Naturalist and Tom Seymour's Forager's Notebook, all by Just Write Books, Topsham, Maine. I also wrote Foraging New England, Fishing Maine, Hiking Maine, Off The Beaten Path, Maine, Birding Maine and Nuts & Berries of New England, all for Globe Pequot Press. The Maine Sportsman has published a collection of my wildlife columns in book form as an inducement to subscribers. Finally, Tom Seymour's Maine, A Maine Anthology, iUniverse Press, is a collection of Maine history and folklore.