Poliquin bill aims to ease regulations and bolster Maine seafood exports

Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) on Thursday would end repetitive mandatory inspections of sea urchins and sea cucumbers to boost U.S. seafood exports.

The bipartisan legislation, which Poliquin introduced with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), would address federal rules requiring inspections of sea urchins and sea cucumbers when they enter and leave the United States. Under current rules, sea urchins harvested in Maine and Canada are inspected when brought into Maine for processing and when leaving the state, regardless of where they’re caught.

“Diving for, harvesting and processing urchins and cucumbers is an especially difficult task, and there is only a limited amount of time each year for these workers to do it,” Poliquin said. “There’s no reason the federal government should get in the way of our Maine businesses with costly and unnecessary regulations, putting in jeopardy the hundreds of jobs the industry supports.”

Sea urchin exports generate $25 million per year for Maine’s economy and support 650 local jobs.

“We need to make sure our government is there to help — not hurt — our jobs, local businesses and communities in Maine,” Poliquin said. “I’m tremendously proud and excited to be helping again push this issue forward with my colleague Congresswoman Pingree and in continuing our efforts to revise burdensome federal regulations to help protect the more than 650 Maine jobs in our state’s urchin and cucumber industry.”

The bill would remove a redundant layer of inspection, Pingree added, that puts the product at risk of rotting while sitting in a warehouse.

“Other seafood exports, such as lobster, are already exempt from these rules,” Pingree said. “Ensuring fair treatment for this significant Maine industry is important for the diversity of our marine economy and sustainability of our coastal communities.”

The federal exemption for shellfish exports, like lobster, dates back to the 1980s. Sea urchins are not covered because they are echinoderms, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services recently began requiring inspections.