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International Waters: Sequestration Hits U.S. Ornamental Fish Imports and Exports

Posted: June 10, 2013, 2 p.m. EST

By John Dawes

The United States’ position as the largest market for exports of ornamental fish from Singapore, and almost the largest market for other exporting countries, could change following the introduction of new consignment inspection and clearance measures introduced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

On March 11, the USFWS notified all importers and exporters that, effective immediately, it would no longer inspect or clear any wildlife imports or exports during overtime hours on weekdays, weekends or federal holidays. The notice states, "Federal budget sequestration that went into effect on March 1, 2013” is the reason for the curtailment of inspection/clearance services. As a direct consequence, the service imposed funding cuts for the remainder of the year. The cuts include a hiring freeze, so no wildlife inspector vacancies will be filled, and suspension of all overtime activities, including those at ports of entry.

International Waters: Sequestration Hits U.S. Ornamental Fish Imports and Exports
Imports from major suppliers such as Singapore (pictured are the holding facilities of Coral Farm) could be hit hard by the new USFWS measures. John Dawes

If the inspection and clearance of ornamental fish imports and exports cost the USFWS considerable sums of money, then the move might be more understandable. However, inspection and clearance are funded by the customers who require their consignments of aquatic ornamentals inspected and cleared. So the USFWS effectively cancelled a free-for-service program/profit center.

Owing to international flight schedules, many shipments arrive in the United States outside normal working hours/days. Therefore, they carry a normal service fee, plus a special overtime fee, both of which generate significant sums for the USFWS. For example, normal clearance fees can be as high as $279, depending on the permits involved. Those consignments that arrive outside normal working hours carry an overtime fee of $105 per hour during weekdays, with a minimum two-hour requirement, so they cost at least $210 over and above the normal workday fee.

Turning to other aspects of the matter, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) reported that several large importers already are likely to suspend operations, go out of business or consider other methods of importing aquatic animals, such as by sea. This would extend transportation times, place the animals under considerable stress, increase mortalities and raise welfare issues.

Another way to tackle the problem is to schedule consignments via alternative, often more extended, air transportation routes, but this raises similar problems.

All in all, the U.S. ornamental aquatic import/export sector has been presented with a very difficult situation. Not surprising, PIJAC has written all its members asking them to contact their congressional delegations without delay, pointing out the serious impacts the new measures will have on imports and exports. <HOME>


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