WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maine Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin testified Tuesday at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee in support of a bill that would exempt sea urchins and sea cucumbers from federal inspection when they are imported to or exported from the United States.
Sea urchins and sea cucumbers, harvested in the Gulf of Maine, have a shelf life of seven days and are regularly sold to buyers in Asia, but delays in shipping while awaiting inspection by federal regulators have resulted in spoilage of the highly perishable product, according to a joint statement from the representatives.
Since the 1970s, all shellfish, including lobsters, have been exempted from these U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFW) inspections. In 2014, USFW began imposing inspection requirements of sea urchins and sea cucumbers on Maine exporters.
Sea urchin and sea cucumber exporters in Maine contacted Pingree and Poliquin for help with the inspection requirements, and last year Pingree introduced a bill (HR 4245) to exempt sea urchins and sea cucumbers, with Poliquin joining as the original cosponsor. Pingree also has met with Dan Ashe, the director of USFW, to discuss the issue.
“The urchin fishery employs about 600 people in Maine, and we can’t afford to put those jobs at risk with unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy,” Pingree said.
In addition to Pingree and Poliquin, two other Mainers testified: Atchan Tamaki and Joseph Leask. Tamaki owns ISF Trading, a sea urchin and sea cucumber processor in Portland, and is president of the Maine Sea Urchin and Sea Cucumber Association. Leask, from Rockwood, is the chairman of the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ Sea Urchin Zone Council.