Our Great State of Maine is known for many unique industries and trades, such as our famous lobster harvesting, our top-of-the-line forestry and logging, and our maple syrup production. However, there is one industry in Maine that is largely unknown, but incredibly important all the same. Each year, Maine’s sea urchin and sea cucumber industry directly employs more than 650 workers from across the State, contributing to a significant part of our coastal economy. This is a major industry in our State, and hundreds of families depend on it.
Like many other industries, however, these jobs are at risk because of overregulation from Washington. Due to bureaucratic rules handed down from the federal government, urchin and cucumber catches are subject to prolonged checks from federal agents, which have proven to be devastating for these workers to efficiently ship and process these highly perishable items to sell.
These sea urchins and sea cucumbers have a shelf life of just seven days. In that short amount of time, this product needs to arrive at the processing facility from port, be processed, shipped to and arrive at its ultimate destination—typically Asia, the largest consumer worldwide. This high turnaround time leaves virtually no time for delays.
Until 2014, sea urchins and sea cucumbers were considered to fall under a longstanding exemption from federal regulations because they were classified as shellfish, and as such treated just like so many other Maine shellfish—lobsters, clams, oysters, and scallops to name a few. This classification allowed the industry to export processed product to Asia in a timely manner because, like other the shellfish, it was free from any federal regulatory burdens, aside from the standard customs process.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began requiring some urchin and cucumber processors to adhere to certain requirements, including submitting to inspections after providing a minimum of 48 hours’ notice to the Fish and Wildlife and paying fees that can total hundreds of dollars. Additionally, just this past fall, Fish and Wildlife requested past records from some processors and is seeking to collect payments and penalties retroactive to 2011, which would total thousands of dollars and potentially put many Maine processors, and in turn Maine harvesters, out of business. This is unfair and dramatically harms our Maine businesses, effecting hundreds of jobs.
Because of this abrupt change, processors have had shipments stall at JFK airport for days at a time, often resulting in thousands of dollars lost and threatening the future of this industry. This bureaucratic red tape is harming our Maine jobs.
Protecting these jobs and this industry is a common sense and bipartisan goal. That is why I was proud to join my fellow Mainer in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, in introducing legislation to remove these restrictive and needless regulations on our sea urchin and sea cucumber harvesters. Last month, I sent a letter to Chairman John Fleming (LA-04), of the House Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, asking the subcommittee to hold a hearing on our joint bill to protect sea urchin harvesting jobs in Maine. I was very pleased that my letter brought this issue to the attention of the subcommittee and that Chairman Fleming agreed to hold a hearing on our bill. I proudly testified at the hearing alongside Congresswoman Pingree, pointing out how important it is for the federal government to revise some of its most harmful and unnecessary regulations on the industry and how these jobs must be protected.
I am proud to support this common sense, bipartisan bill that would allow the sea urchin and sea cucumber industry to be treated fairly by granting them the same exemption that they held for 40 years. It is important to the future of Maine’s industry to know that they will not have thousands of dollars in quality product going to spoil because of needless policies from Washington.