December 10, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) announced that the Senate early this morning unanimously passed an amendment he authored that would exempt urchins exported from the United States from mandatory inspections by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, providing important relief for an industry that employs approximately 650 people in Maine.
“This is an important step forward in protecting the livelihoods of hundreds of hardworking people in Maine,” Senator King said. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has overstepped its bounds, and Maine’s urchin harvesters, processors, and shippers are unfairly paying the price. With the passage of this amendment, we are another step closer to getting the feds off their backs so that they can once again thrive in their work.”
The amendment passed by the Senate tonight, which had been offered by Senator King, would end the unnecessary inspections of urchins and sea cucumbers being exported from the country. The amendment ensures both that if the exemption from inspection would negatively impact the species’ conservation, or if either species were to become listed as endangered or threatened in the future, their exports would still be subject to inspection. In June 2015, Senator King had also sent a letter to the heads of two separate Senate subcommittees urging them to help stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from conducting the unnecessary inspections that are not required of most other fishery products.
Until several years ago, the sea urchin and sea cucumber industries were able to export their products out of the United States free from regulatory burdens because, under current regulations, fishery products are exempt from FWS import and export inspection requirements so long as they are intended for human or animal consumption and the species is not listed as injurious, threatened or endangered, or protected internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Congress intended FWS to guard against wildlife trafficking – not to inspect otherwise harmless seafood.
However, FWS has too narrowly interpreted the definition of ‘shellfish and fishery products’ – for which there has been a longstanding inspection exemption – excluding sea urchins and sea cucumbers. As a result, processors now must pay inspection fees and obtain licenses, the cost of which cuts into their profit margin as well as the price they can pay harvesters. Further, FWS requires 48 hours notice to carry out an inspection, which greatly affects the quality and even feasibility of such perishable products reaching their destination retail market in the desired high quality condition.
Similar language introduced by U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin has already passed the House of Representatives. The language will need to be reconciled and pass both houses again before it can be sent to the President for his signature to become law.