A seafood business in Hancock was within days of getting federal approval to resume processing and selling smoked fish when the government shutdown went into effect in late December.
Now, five weeks later, Leslie Harlow is in a holding pattern, waiting to find out when she can call her five employees in to work at the business, Sullivan Harbor Farm. Harlow also owns other businesses and real estate, including the Maine Grind building in downtown Ellsworth, where the Bangor Daily News rents a small office.
For Harlow, the lack of a Food and Drug Administration permit — which she says is sitting on an inspector’s desk, waiting to be mailed to her — represents more than just a five-week headache. She’s been trying to reopen the business after it shut down three years ago because of food safety violations.
The company’s efforts to stay afloat and properly permitted were hampered by a former manager who, prior the company’s closure, embezzled thousands of dollars from the business and failed to file necessary paperwork with the FDA, according to a 2017 report published by the Ellsworth American weekly newspaper.
Since then, Harlow has bought out her former business partner and invested in the business, notably by having all of her employees trained to meet government standards in how to properly handle seafood. All she needs, she said, is for the FDA inspector to be allowed to go back to work so she can mail her the agency’s permit.
“We just spent the last two years dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t,’” Harlow said Wednesday. “We were at the very end of the ordeal, which makes [the shutdown] especially painful.”
Harlow said she thought the shutdown would not last long, but now she feels like she is running out of rope. Her employees, on whom she just spent “thousands” of dollars to make sure they have required training, aren’t making money because they are not working and they are starting to look for other jobs, she said.
“I’m at an impasse,” Harlow said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Harlow has been vocal in her concerns, and has gotten support on Twitter from Sen. Angus King, who noted that “Maine people are being hurt” every day that the shutdown continues.
Earlier this week on her Facebook page, Harlow marked the 30th day of the shutdown by expressing solidarity with furloughed federal workers.
“When Sullivan Harbor Farm Smokehouse reopens, all currently furloughed workers get a FREE package of smoked salmon,” she wrote. “Including our FDA inspectors.”
Harlow stressed that the shutdown is affecting many Mainers — not just those who depend on federal paychecks, but others who rely on federal assistance for benefits or on federal paperwork for needed permits or loans.
“Not only are the 800,000 federal employees negatively impacted by this shutdown,” Harlow said. “Businesses like mine are being stalled with our efforts to create jobs.”