What is a government shut down? In the aftermath of the entire federal government shutting down over funding for a border wall the term shutdown is being thrown around more and more.
So, what does a government shutdown entail?
For several weeks at the beginning of the New Year federal offices and agencies were barred from working, or if the job was critical to national security than working for no pay. The event was covered extensively by the evening news, everybody was pointing fingers, and the tragedy was, it seemed that federal employees closer to the bottom were not getting paychecks that sustain life in America. In the end a hasty compromise was reached that satisfied some people for some time, and inevitably sowed the seeds for more arguments and shutdowns down the line.
This is not the government shutdown that I want to talk about. On a day to day basis we at American Mussel Harvesters deal with government shutdowns that reach far over our heads in the name of protecting the people. This idea was first explained to me by one of the clam diggers that sells his product here, and after thinking about it for a while I began to realize the capacity the government has to shut us down. So as it relates to the clam diggers, and mussel fishers a government shutdown is when it rains half an inch and the DEM shuts down the fishery in the upper bay or wherever the imaginary line they draw is. Protecting the public from eating what may, or may not be washed into the water system after one of these storms. The same story goes for the shell-fishermen up and down the coast, when the rain comes you cannot work. A lesser known independent workforce is out of pay for as long as the shutdown lasts. How much testing and truth goes into gathering the data that defines these critical decisions is questionable, and how much is based on caution vs actual risk is conjecture.
The interesting and frustrating thing about shellfish closures to me is that arbitrary lines are drawn that dictate whether an area is open or closed. An example of this is when the entire coast of Maine is shut down to shell fishing from Portland to Jonesport and American fishermen are prohibited from catching this natural resource. They are the source of our mussels and our livelihood, so at that moment we as a company are not able to sell into the marketplace. Shutdown.
This is difficult, but if it is for the public’s health then we can survive without sales for a short period. The real caveat that makes these closures unbearable and puts our American mussels at a severe disadvantage in the marketplace is when customers are able to buy Canadian mussels while we are shut down. If you look at the geographic distances from PEI, or Nova Scotia to Down East Maine they are minimal, and the storm events that effect American waters are also happening in Canada. Cobscook Bay is the body of water that separates them. Somewhere in the middle of the bay, where the water is more Canadian, whatever is harmful stops being harmful, and is now safe for US consumers to eat. So the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CIFA) is more lax on their regulations, or more likely, the CIFA actually tests the waters and determines if they are safe. Meanwhile the US FDA exercises extreme caution to cover themselves with not a care in the world about American industry. We are not trying to hurt anybody, we are just looking for a level playing field for American products.
I know life is not fair, but in this context, it creates a significant advantage for Canadian mussels in the US market. This causes customers to view US producers as unreliable and move their business away. I am familiar with the mussel dilemma because of the business I am in. Imagine this same dilemma over the course of a 14 billion dollar seafood trade deficit. It makes you wonder why the FDA puts such stringent regulations on US food producers while allowing imports from countries around the world to pass through our borders uninspected because the sheer volume makes it inconceivable. The government is shutting US food producers down by over regulating. Now we are relying on imports. It is cheaper to buy from other countries, and send our money overseas, but how long will that last?
Another area that pertains to government shutdowns is fisheries management. This is a can of worms that I will not open because I agree with properly managed fisheries for healthy ecosystems. Mussel stocks are however at a healthy level, but we are being excluded from fishing in an area because of its designated zoning in the environment. This could be our next source of food for the American people so we are doing everything we can to gain the rights to fish these waters. It is very slow going, so for the moment we are shutdown.
So its not about a border wall, it is about promoting hard working Americans and their industries by working with them not against them. Leveling the playing field by scrutinizing imports along with domestic foods. We want to play by the same rules that our competitors are playing by.