Pingree, Poliquin Pass Bipartisan Bill in the House to Ease Regulatory Burdens on Maine’s Sea Urchin Businesses
WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill authored by Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin with broad, bipartisan support to make it easier for seafood dealers to export sea urchins and sea cucumbers outside of the United States.
H.R. 2504 puts an end to repetitive, mandatory inspections of urchins and sea cucumbers being exported from the country, which are causing the highly perishable product to be held in warehouses for prolonged periods and spoiling. Sea urchin harvesting in Maine employs about 650 Mainers across the state.
Pingree and Poliquin both spoke on the House Floor in support of the bill.
"Maine urchin harvesters and processors work too hard to have their highly perishable product rot in some hot warehouse waiting for inspection. It’s certainly appropriate for the Fish and Wildlife Service to inspect urchins and sea cucumbers imported from other countries, but to have an additional inspection on exports is costly and unnecessary, “ said Congresswoman Pingree. "I’m pleased to see this bill pass so exported urchins can be treated the same as shellfish, which have been exempted from these additional inspections for decades.”
“For the 650 Mainers who make their living in the industry, diving for, harvesting and processing urchins and cucumbers is hard work, and there is only a limited amount of time each year for these individuals to do it. The government shouldn’t be getting in the way of our Maine job creators with costly and unnecessary regulations, putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of the hundreds of workers in Maine the industry supports,” said Congressman Poliquin. “We need to make sure our government is there to help—not hurt—our jobs, local businesses and communities in Maine. I’m extremely pleased to work with my colleague Congresswoman Chellie Pingree in pushing this important and bipartisan bill through the House.”
Federal officials started requiring inspections of sea urchins and sea cucumbers entering and leaving the United States. Currently, processors buy urchins harvested in Maine and Canada and process them in Maine. Urchins from Canada are inspected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when coming into the state. After they are processed, all urchins—regardless of where they were caught—are again inspected before being exported. Almost all processed urchins are sold to markets in Asia.
The exemption from inspection for shellfish dates back to the 1980s. Technically, urchins are echinoderms instead of shellfish, but only recently did federal officials start requiring U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspections. The bill would revoke the exemption if urchins are declared endangered and does not apply to any urchins harvested illegally.
Last Congress, the Maine representatives’ bill passed the House and the Senate with bipartisan support.