Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin introduced a bill today that will make it easier for seafood dealers to export urchins outside of the United States. Recently, federal officials started requiring inspections of urchins entering and leaving the United States. Currently processors buy urchins harvested in Maine and Canada and process them here 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 inspection process of getting this highly perishable seafood out of the country has been very difficult for urchin dealers," Pingree said. "Sometimes the urchins end up sitting in a hot warehouse for days waiting for an inspection and this has resulted in the loss of a very valuable product. There is an exemption in place already for shellfish and I think it should be extended to include urchins."
“The urchin industry employs more than 600 hardworking and dedicated Mainers,” said Poliquin. “This legislation will root out overly burdensome and unnecessary regulations by the federal government to ensure this industry continues to thrive and help protect these Maine jobs.”
The exemption from inspection for shellfish dates back to the 1980s. Technically, urchins are echinoiderms 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.