While media focuses on the Tariff War between the United States and China, locally, Nordic Aquafarms, faces non-tariff protectionism that hinders the economic development of Belfast, and for that matter the State of Maine. We are not talking about non-tariff protectionist strategies such as import quotas, licensing requirements or robust government procurement regulations, but environmental and conservationist initiatives designed to block Foreign Direct Investment from entering our economy. Multiple stakeholders oppose the business initiative of Nordic Aquafarms in Belfast, while other social, political, and economic stakeholders welcome the Norwegian initiative. My objective is to untangle the debate over the salmon farm and to highlight, through the microcosm that is Belfast, how we now live under two divisive visions of what the USA’s future should be.
This division may be summarized by the “grassroot duel” that has emerged, in Belfast, between Local Citizens for Smart Growth: Salmon Farm and Smart Growth and Upstream Watch that oppose the Foreign Direct Investment project, and the pro-Nordic Aquafarms group The Fish are Okay. Similar polarization may be seen all over the country and it is currently filtering into the Democratic Party. There is anger and resentment, and there seems to be no solution in sight. Our inability to generate win-win solutions and our cultural obsession with winner-take-all outcomes leaves us with an even more vulnerable future. Our privileged position, as a nation, impedes us from being objective over issues such as the Nordic Aquafarms economic development project. We worry about our own individualist self-interest, and therefore are not able to see things from the perspective of those who are disenfranchised by the dynamics of globalization. I am talking, in this case, about the unemployed, underemployed or simply those in need of financial stability.
Those that oppose the project say that sixty-plus jobs are not worth the risk, but I would argue that any new jobs is better than no jobs at all. Between sixty and seventy families will have steady incomes, they will consume locally, injecting capital into Belfast and the regional economy, they will pay taxes and generate revenues for the community, bringing economic stability to the region.
Those that oppose the project, based on environmental threats, argue that the Norwegian company is going to violate the environmental standards stipulated by the law. However, the company relies on the highest environmental standards and “best practices” in order to compete in a highly regulated industry. Let’s also not forget that they chose to operate in Maine, where environmental standards are strict and where a culture of progressive stakeholders is alert at all times, strengthening the regulatory standards even more.
It is easy to oppose business initiatives. It is easy to negate the advancement of much needed value-added industrial production in Maine. It is easy to conserve the current landscape and environment when one lives in the comfort of privileged capitalism. It is much more complicated to generate industry, jobs, community, and long-term capital. Will those in opposition generate sixty-plus jobs? Will they lend a hand to the unemployed or the under-employed? Will they generate long-term investment capital for the region?
If the argument is about social and environmental justice then they should welcome the Norwegian operation, instead of perpetuating the deregulated and exploitative practices of multinational corporations across the world. Why force the company to move operations to Chile, for example, where workers are abused, low non-sustainable wages are the norm, and environmental regulations are only existent on paper? Is their environmental argument just “not in my back yard.”
The salmon is going to be farmed somewhere in the planet because the company needs to supply the increasing demand for salmon across the world, and particularly in the United States where most of the production of Nordic Aquafarms will be sold. If we want American consumers to decrease their beef consumption as a means to slow climate change and decrease food system’s impact, then why not consume our salmon locally?
These are the dilemmas of capitalism in this era of globalization. Things can be done right or they may be done in an unregulated fashion, but inevitably a private actor will rise to the occasion in order to fulfill the demand of the market. Here in Maine, we have the opportunity to do things right.
Shifts in ideologies, revisions and reinterpretations of capitalism, even a shift in the dynamics of the triangular relationship between government, business, and civil society will be left to future generations to decide on. My position is that the polarization around the priorities for the present and future of Maine, and for that matter the United States, are dividing us internally and making us more vulnerable to the rapid changes that come with the globalization of the market system. We are faced with tremendous contradictions.
Take a look at what is going on in Brazil with the increasing fires in the Amazons, the anti-tourist movements in places like Barcelona, Spain, or the dilemma over the preservation of the Right Whales in the Atlantic and the impact over lobster fishing communities. I am in solidarity with those who oppose President Jair Bolsonaro’s aggressive and unregulated strategies of economic development, particularly in the Amazons, but I also strongly believe that Brazil needs to use its resources in order to advance their own economic development and secure the wellbeing of its citizens. I agree that tourists impact the quality of life of locals and in many instances disrupt the dynamics of local citizens, but I am also in solidarity of those entrepreneurs and small business owners that depend on tourism and not on the locals in order to secure food on their table and a roof above their head. I am also a strong defender of animal rights and the preservation of species that are in threat of extinction, but I also know that the human damage caused by unemployment and the devastation of communities is also irreparable.
These are the dilemmas we are facing in this era of globalization and it describes what is currently going on in Belfast. I support the economic development initiative of Nordic Aquafarms because they bring investment, jobs, and community development but only if their operations are highly regulated and if they are committed to the highest standards of the industry.
I strongly believe in the power of citizens to control and regulate industries through their political and civil activism, but I oppose civil initiatives that negate the right of business to advance its own interests. In this era of globalization, we should welcome foreign companies and business initiatives that are willing to comply with our own high regulatory standards, instead of forcing them to search for deregulated options in other global markets. If we want international business practices to become more socially and environmentally just then we should welcome companies such as Nordic Aquafarms.
 Abigail Curtis. “Grassroots duel over fish farm has some Belfast residents feeling like ‘loonies.’” Bangor Daily News. July 1, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2019. https://bangordailynews.com/2019/07/01/news/midcoast/new-grassroots-group-sprouts-to-defend-proposed-belfast-salmon-farm/