WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King today introduced legislation that would make it easier for Maine seafood dealers to export sea urchins and sea cucumbers outside of the United States. The legislation, which also has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Congressman Bruce Poliquin, would put an end to repetitive, mandatory inspections of urchins and sea cucumbers exported from the country. The unnecessary inspections are causing the highly perishable products to be held in warehouses for prolonged periods of time, which increases the likelihood they will spoil.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has overstepped its bounds with these redundant, and frankly, unnecessary inspections – and it’s Maine’s harvesters, processors, and shippers who are paying the price,” Senator King said. “This legislation will help get the federal government off their backs so they can thrive in their work and help support Maine’s economy.”
“In order to grow our economy and help create employment opportunities for Mainers, we must eliminate unnecessary red-tape that stifles job creation,” said Senator Collins. “Our commonsense legislation will put an end to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s overly restrictive inspection requirements that do nothing to improve health or safety while needlessly reducing profits for harvesters and creating hurdles for exporters to ship their 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 fishery products are exempt from import and export inspection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 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 – to exclude sea urchins and sea cucumbers. As a result, exporters 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.
Last year, the Senate passed an amendment authored by Senator King that would have exempted urchins from mandatory exemptions. In June 2015, Senator King had also sent a letter to the heads of two separate Senate subcommittees urging them to help stop FWS from conducting the unnecessary inspections.