Federal Legislation Threatens Pets, Zoos, Aquariums, and Biomedical Research

04 Feb, 2022

Proposed revisions to the Lacey Act have passed in the House, are headed to the Senate, and could bring the entire pet trade and hobby to a grinding halt.
Proposed revisions to the Lacey Act have passed in the House, are headed to the Senate, and could bring the entire pet trade and hobby to a grinding halt.

Editor’s Note: This is a fast-moving situation, and H.R. 4521 has reportedly been passed in the House on the morning of February 4th, 2022 (vote record here), with the problematic Lacey Act amendments in place. This article was published prior to that, and the progress of H.R. 4521 now depends on Senate actions.

via National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA)

Author Art Parola

by Art Parola

A last-minute amendment to the COMPETES Act, H.R. 4521, was slipped in, presumably to avoid attention and pushback from the millions of Americans who will be affected, and to bypass congressional hearings. The language creates a major change to the provisions of the Lacey Act that regulate species deemed by US Fish & Wildlife Service to be injurious. While promoted under the guise of protecting the country from invasive species, the true goal of the legislative change is to ban as much of the wildlife trade as possible. Many of the organizations pushing this change oppose keeping animals in zoos, public aquariums, research facilities, and sometimes even as pets. While these organizations do not have the public support to implement their agenda outright, they have been effective in hijacking otherwise legitimate initiatives to achieve their ideological goals quietly, piece by piece.

Currently, the Lacey Act allows US Fish & Wildlife Service to promulgate rules that list species that could be injurious “to human beings, to the interests of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or to wildlife or the wildlife resources of the United States.” Every state in the US also has legal and regulatory mechanisms for banning species that could cause harm to native species and habitats. The current federal Lacey Act list, and most state lists, are often referred to as “Black Lists.” Any species on the list is prohibited, while any species not on the list is allowed to be imported into the respective jurisdiction, sometimes with stipulations such as permit or health certificate requirements. This method of regulation is often regarded as best regulatory practice because it allows jurisdictions to prevent unwanted environmental and health threats that are relevant to their region without being overly burdensome to organizations, businesses, and individuals.

The language in the COMPETES Act would change the Lacey Act list to what is often referred to as a “White List.” If the bill passes, only species that go through an administrative rulemaking process and are found not to be a risk or an injurious species would be allowed to be imported into the United States. Any species not listed would be presumed to be injurious and would be banned from import. All species would be in essence regarded as guilty until proven innocent.

There are multiple problems with taking this regulatory approach.

First, it is impossible to prove a negative. Meeting the burden of proof to show a species would not be injurious is onerous and will require significant time and financial resources. Navigating the petition and listing process will be next to impossible for the average person, not to mention the problems in overcoming any subsequent legal challenges to listings.

The Lacey Act is a federal law, meaning if a species could be injurious anywhere in the United States including its territories and possessions, it could be considered injurious. Due to the vast differences in climate and habitats, effectively regulating potentially invasive species in Ohio or Minnesota requires evaluating drastically different criteria than in Florida or Hawaii, or Puerto Rico. However, the Lacey Act is inflexible and leaves no room for more localized regulations. If a species could be a threat in south Florida, it is deemed to be a threat in Minnesota as well. Therefore, rules to prevent invasive species are most effective when implemented at the state level and not as a one size fits all approach for the entirety of the country.

“White Lists” also create enforcement problems. With a “Black List,” law enforcement primarily needs to be able to identify protected and banned species. Even in these cases, law enforcement can have difficulty and federal regulations ban imports of some species solely based on similarity of appearance to another protected or banned species. The only purpose of these bans are regulatory agencies perceive it would otherwise be difficult for law enforcement personnel to implement the law. This can lead to extremes. For example, Pennsylvania bans all crayfish species. This law is primarily an attempt to prevent invasions of rusty crayfish and a few other cold-water species that legitimately threaten native ecosystems. However, this also means the orange dwarf Mexican crayfish, a popular tropical aquarium species, is banned. An ecological risk screening by US Fish & Wildlife Service gives the species a climate match score of 0 (the lowest score possible and a key indicator that the species presents no invasion risk) for the entire state of Pennsylvania. There is also little to no risk of confusing an orange dwarf Mexican crayfish with species that would actually harm the state’s aquatic ecology. Despite no reasonable purpose for banning the species in Pennsylvania, keeping orange Mexican dwarf crayfish is a crime at the state level, and could even become a federal felony if prosecuted under criminal provisions of federal law pertaining to state, tribal, and foreign wildlife violations.

Mexican dwarf orange crayfish (Cambarellus patzcuarensis), a victim of wholesale banning of all crayfish in Pennsylvania despite presenting no risk of invasion within the state. Image credit: Brambo/Shutterstock
Mexican dwarf orange crayfish (Cambarellus patzcuarensis), a victim of wholesale banning of all crayfish in Pennsylvania despite presenting no risk of invasion within the state. Image credit: Brambo/Shutterstock

While “Black Lists” create some regulatory difficulties such as this, these issues are exponentially aggravated when implementing a white list, as practical enforcement of a white list will require law enforcement officials to reliably identify every species, whether listed or not. This is impossible, as millions of species exist on planet earth. Therefore, it is likely species that present effectively no risk of actually being injurious would be excluded from the “White List” due to a perceived burden on law enforcement, whether reasonable or not. Even worse, these regulations would apply across the entire US and not be confined to any single state.

Not only do species identification issues lead to overarching bans on otherwise non-injurious species, but problems can arise even when species are completely legal. Customs officials and wildlife inspection agents at ports of entry are tasked with clearing shipments of wildlife imported from abroad. Often, getting the shipments cleared and to their final destination as quickly as possible is paramount for the health and welfare of the animals. Misidentifications and mistakes by inspectors can lead to holding and seizure of perfectly legal shipments, resulting in significant stress on the animals being transported. This already can be an issue within the current regulatory framework. But moving from a current Lacey Act “Black List” to a “White List” would result in even more instances of mistakenly held and seized shipments due to the increased complexity for custom officials and inspection agents. This will significantly increase the cost of enforcement and reduce animal welfare by potentially prolonging transit times.

The proposed legislation would not only significantly impact importation of animals into the United States, but also limit transportation of animals between states. Due to a 2017 D.C. Court of Appeals ruling, species listed as injurious under the Lacey Act can be moved across state lines in accordance with state laws (though many states already ban relevant Lacey Act “Black Listed” species that pose a threat to their native ecology considering their state’s respective climate and habitats).

The COMPETES Act would override the court ruling and outlaw interstate transport of all species considered injurious under the Lacey Act. Since every species not on the “White List” would be considered injurious, the proposed Lacey Act white list would not only prevent imports of most species into the US from abroad, but also ban movement between states. While animals possessed before the implementation of the white list would still likely be allowed to be kept under state law, unless the species is lucky enough to make it onto the proposed Lacey Act “White List,” transporting across state lines for any reason, whether because of a move, selling or gifting animals, or even taking an animal temporarily to another state for medical care (a common occurrence for fish, reptile, amphibian, and bird keepers, since finding a veterinarian specializing in treating non-mammals can sometimes be difficult) could result in federal prosecution.

Prosecution under the Lacey Act can be severe and heavy-handed. Each violation can be prosecuted as a federal felony with a maximum punishment of $20,000 and/or five years imprisonment. Additional civil penalties could also be levied.

Changes proposed in the COMPETE Act will affect bird keepers, reptile and amphibian enthusiasts, and any other organization, business, or person who works with non-native wildlife. The definition of “wildlife” covers almost every animal, no matter how many generations it may be removed from its wild counterparts, with very few exceptions aside from dogs and cats. The consequences for reptile and amphibian keepers, bird owners, aquarists, and other pet owners if the COMPETES Act passes will be severe. This means every reptile, amphibian, arachnid, bird, fish, coral, and invertebrate will be subject to the new restrictions, whether captive-bred, ranched, farmed, aquacultured, maricultured, or collected from a wild source or fishery. With more than 10,000 species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, fish, corals, and invertebrates kept by hobbyists and in the trade, it is likely only a small fraction of species would initially be able to overcome the onerous listing process on the “White List.” The process of petitioning to add species to the “White List” will be costly and time-consuming, and likely be challenged in court by well-funded animal rights organizations, resulting in long and costly delays, if successful at all. Most species will likely be considered injurious without any reason other than an unsurmountable burden of proving otherwise. For species that do manage to make it onto the “White List,” prices will likely rise significantly. Undescribed and newly discovered species will almost certainly cease to exist in the American hobby and trade. Even domestic captive breeding, aquaculture, and fisheries will be severely curtailed as companies and individuals will, for the most part, be limited solely to the “White Listed” species. For all intents and purposes, this legislation will dramatically change the hobby and pet trade as we know it, resulting in significantly reduced availability of species, diminished interest in pet keeping, severe retraction in the size of the industry resulting in substantial job losses, both in the US and abroad, and an extreme reduction in the scientific, economic, cultural, educational, and conservation benefits of the bird, reptile, amphibian, and aquarium hobbies and trade.

Let your congress member know your views on this amendment to the COMPETES Act, H.R. 4521. To contact your US Representative, please visit the NAIATrust.org website, sign up here, and find your representative here and drop him or her a short note with your position.

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About the author

Reef To Rainforest

Reef to Rainforest Media, LLC is the publisher of award-winning magazines and books in the fields of aquarium keeping, aquatics, and marine science. It is the English-language publisher of CORAL Magazine and is based in Shelburne, Vermont, USA.

27 Comments

  1. February 04, 2022

    Maybe a bit of optimism here. The version of the bill referenced in this article (and on most congressional websites) is the original version from January 25th. The rules committee went through the amendment process and appears to have stricken all amendments to the Lacey Act.You can find the list of amendments here: https://rules.house.gov/bill/117/hr-4521. Line 252 withdrew Lacey Act amendments. Amendment 599 strikes the entire section.
    “599 Version 1 Crawford (AR) Republican Late Strikes Sec. 71102 – Lacey Act amendments.”

    • February 04, 2022

      That was a late proposal, it does not appear to have been accepted. All reports are that the bill will head to the Senate with the Lacey Act provisions.

      • February 04, 2022

        (and for the record, I would love to be wrong about that, but I think it important to consider how quickly this came out of nowhere, and thus how quickly the entire aquarium hobby as we know it could be turned upside down).

        • February 04, 2022

          I hope you’re wrong too!
          I did speak with someone in my local rep’s office yesterday. She’s the one that alerted me to the Lacey Act amendments being withdrawn.
          From a realistic perspective, I have a hard time believing Congress would decimate an entire industry with a bill designed to help American business. Knocking every local fish store out of business seems like bad press.

          • February 04, 2022

            Do you have a link to the version of the bill that passed?

          • February 04, 2022

            Thomas, I don’t think that actually exists at the moment. What I can say is that this is what people are pointing to, which has the Lacey Act changes in place. The one proposal to remove that section is just that…a submission, but to the best of my knowledge was not adopted. I would love to say “here is the bill in the final form” and if I can find that, I will certainly add it. But for now, this is what we have: https://rules.house.gov/sites/democrats.rules.house.gov/files/BILLS-117HR4521RH-RCP117-31.pdf

          • February 06, 2022

            @NickBoris

            I’m not trying to start an argument here but do you think Congress really cares about our hobby and the industry at large ? These people exist only to implement more and more draconian laws upon us serfs and to serve themselves. Especially in the state I live in. Zero chance of these politicians listening to me. I’m not saying I’m giving up but I really need to find a local group of people to get together with on this. Local fish store owners ? Local USARK members ?

          • February 08, 2022

            Every email Congress gets from a citizen counts as a bit over 13,000 votes. That is the number used, as we know for every person who took the time to write, 13,000 others felt the same, but did not take the time to write. This is how this works. Every person is a vote of 13k. So yes, you have power to influence legislators. Most people do not understand how this works. So please take the time, it does have an effect on Congress because believe it or not they are driven by their voters.

  2. February 04, 2022

    it is unfair to ban fish and corals because you lack the funds or cannot come up with an oversite department to control over fishing or poching. legislation has the money to fund these departments and refuses to because there is of no financial interest to them. if you were talking about banning all guns or oil or gold then you would never hear about any of these things happenning.

    • February 09, 2022

      Make no mistake, they are not doing this because there isn’t interest or finances to police it. They are only interested in preventing pet ownership. These are all tied to the same people that fabricated statistics and unrepeatable “studies” in Hawaii to ban all collections which flew in the face of 30yrs of verified data.

  3. February 05, 2022

    I sure hope a widespread ban can be avoided. Learning about new and different species of fish is a significant part of the aquarium hobby.

  4. February 06, 2022

    Then it’s time they were stopped everyone has to call the State House in their state the capitals that’s right call there and ask her what’s before the Senate and Congress on the bills so they can’t pass it and then you can ask your representative or Senator to make up one because we are against it we the people do hold more clout than a fake government you forget it is our planet not theirs we are many and they are few someone has to start the ball rolling on the petition if they’re good at doing that let’s get it started I am not good at that part sorry I will say prayers and I will sign and we can stop this

  5. February 06, 2022

    We the people that have fish or plants we need to stop them from doing this If there is any way to get this information over to Facebook so I can repost I would get this word out. I seen two videos one from Secrets living in your aquarium and Father Fish his video. Some lady wrote to me inbox on FB saying these videos have been going around for a while. Lady was trying to tell me its not going to happen. I told her that these two people said it passed the house and now the senate has it. She was like I didn’t see anything that is going to stop us from having fish. She got me so pissed off, she’s like its not on news. So If there is any way to get this post from Art Parola over to Facebook. I would love that dam lady to see this is not fake. We will loss aquarium stores, aquariums and zoos all around. And that those people who are selling fish like ebay or aquabid this would all be illegal for all of us. I wish the word would get out in newspapers too. I would hate to lose our hobby of having fish or plants.

    • Jer
      February 11, 2022

      Hey Dawn, copy the link from to this page from your browser and paste it into a new post on any social platform. This is really easy to do! 🙂

      Jer.

  6. February 07, 2022

    Do not worry as with anything illegal there is always a black market although you will pay a higher price no matter what happens the market will survive legally or illegally

  7. February 09, 2022

    I’m so against this Bill. No one is taking into account on how many species we have actually saved from extinction in captivity in programs to be released in to there native habitats to save those species from extinction. Not only that. There is far more damage being done by gas lines and economic growth in expansions of business and housing that has affected native species in their wild habitats than the local exotic pet keeper being responsible with exotic animals. With this being said. Not only are we gaining more knowledge in a private setting of our own homes over the course of many years being taught by the previous keeper over the course of many years. Alongside the most responsible and knowledgeable keepers of many generations. We still have learned so much more from exotics being in our care over the course of many years and still to this day we wouldn’t of known about in a wild setting. Many species being deemed exotics have been in so many generations hands and care in the captive breed setting. This has eliminated the need to take from the wild period on many of these instances. Not one shoe fits all. This bill is unacceptable to say the least.

  8. February 09, 2022

    Where is the “white list” to determine what species are on it currently?

  9. February 09, 2022

    NO on The America COMPETES Act HR4521.

  10. February 11, 2022

    So during the rant he continues to talk about the Lacey Act,which is already in place! He never says what the new language is that was slipped in late (which is why all bills should be line item only).If you are going to rant about something -tell us what it is!

  11. Jer
    February 11, 2022

    Howdy Folks!
    Here is a link to the current public record of this bill, with status and a record list of amendments.
    Hopefully, this helps eliminate confusion.

    https://www.congress.gov/search?q=%7B%22congress%22%3A%5B%22117%22%5D%2C%22source%22%3A%22all%22%2C%22search%22%3A%22HR4521%22%7D

    Additionally, here is a link to the current read of the “Lacey Act” (without the proposed changes):

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/42#:~:text=%C2%A7%2042-,18%20U.S.%20Code%20%C2%A7%2042%20%2D%20Importation%20or%20shipment%20of%20injurious,permits%2C%20specimens%20for%20museums%3B%20regulations

    Lastly, if you went to the link for a read of HR4521 and had trouble finding what this is about in the 2,912 pages of legal language – look at page 1,661 in the section under Miscellaneous called: “SEC. 71102. LACEY ACT AMENDMENTS.” here:

    https://rules.house.gov/sites/democrats.rules.house.gov/files/BILLS-117HR4521RH-RCP117-31.pdf

    I hope this helps some folks! 🙂

    Kindly,

    Jer.

  12. February 13, 2022

    Between ‘invasive species’ bans (ie you are not allowed to sell, keep or import foreign species) and ‘threatened native species’ lists (ie you are not allowed to sell, keep or import designated native species), soon you won’t be able to buy or keep anything, native or foreign! There is a law for everything.

    I agree that hobbyists are helping to conserving species. Plants like anubias and crypts will never be exitinct now thanks to aquarists.

    Its a bum deal…

  13. April 28, 2022

    What about putting cattle out in areas where wildlife are, they are being exposed to rabies, I’ve worked in veterinarian medicine for 22 years and we always told our clients to not put any domestic animals out where they would be exposed to wildlife and to not keep or have anything that would encourage wildlife to hang around premises , cattle can get rabies from wildlife that are carriers, bats skunks and they can have rabies and not show signs of it and cattle have been the number one domestication animal to get rabies, there is no sure way of knowing if cooking meat would be safe even after it’s cooked, cattle should be kept in veterinarian supervision for at least 10 and proof of rabies vaccine and each checked over before slaughter

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