Pingree, Poliquin introduce bill to roll back regulations on urchin industry

Maine's U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District. BDN file photos  by Troy R. Bennett and Gabor Degre.

A bill that would make it easier to export American sea urchins was introduced by Maine’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday.

The problem, according to U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, is that federal officials recently began requiring inspections of urchins entering and leaving the country. So, urchins are inspected when they’re brought from Canada to Maine for processing and again before they’re exported to Asian markets.

Shellfish have gotten an exemption for these inspections since the 1980s, but the federal government recently changed its exemption rules, according to U.S. Sen. Angus King’s office. Now, they no longer include the sea urchin and sea cucumber, which are echinoderms. The bill would reinstate that exemption.

In Maine, urchins were once the state’s second-largest fishery after processors opened markets for urchin roe in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s. But the population declined sharply and it was just a $5.4 million fishery in 2014, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

King, an independent, said in a letter to a Senate committee that this new rule is “having significant and debilitating economic impacts” on seafood processors. Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, said in a statement that the bill “will root out overly burdensome and unnecessary regulations” and “help protect these Maine jobs.”

“Sometimes the urchins end up sitting in a hot warehouse for days and at times waiting for an inspection and this has resulted in the loss of a very valuable product,” said Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, in a statement.

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About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.