USARK: Lacey Act Amendments Headed to Reconciliation
30 Mar, 2022
The pet industry continues to rumble over highly controversial proposals to amend the Lacey Act that were first introduced in the House as part of the COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521). That act passed the House with the amendments included and went to the Senate, where it met with a prior, existing Senate Bill (S1260).
Now, it appears that these bills are headed toward the reconciliation process, and the problematic Lacey Act proposals remain up for discussion, which means this matter is still a potential threat to the aquarium hobby and trade.
For those unfamiliar with this issue, a summary and several links to prior coverage are listed after this update from the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK).
UPDATE 3/29: A top priority on Capitol Hill is to pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act (this is the current name for the bill that will merge HR4521 and S1260). The primary goal of this bill is to boost high-tech research and chip manufacturing in the United States. Since the House and Senate passed different versions, the two versions must now be merged (reconciled). The process to conduct a formal reconciliation finally started Monday evening with a move from the Senate that replaced the text of HR4521 with the text of S1260 and sent it back to the House. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House should vote this week against the bill from the Senate. This downvote will trigger the formation of a conference committee with members from both chambers. That committee will reconcile HR4521 and S1260 to produce a final bill. Following a vote to begin a formal conference negotiation process, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell must define the structure of the committee talks.
UPDATE 3/28: Following a roll call to limit debate on the measure (cloture), the Senate voted 68-28 to send its version (text from S1260) of this bill back to the House. Next, the House will reject this bill. This was the process needed to set up a cross-chamber conference committee to settle on the final language for the bill (reconciliation of the two bills, HR4521 and S1260).
SUMMARY & ACTION NOTES
What can you do?
The latest updates from USARK continue to suggest this is an area of great concern, and several organizations are currently recommending that aquarists continue to contact your elected officials. The Pet Advocacy Network, formerly PIJAC, has established an easy form that includes talking points and the ability to craft your own message to your legislators. https://cqrcengage.com/pijac/app/write-a-letter?0&engagementId=513850
Be sure to also follow USARK for all of their latest updates on legislative issues that affect the keeping of exotic pets as animals, often including fish. The latest Lacey Act updates from USARK can always be found at https://usark.org/2022lacey/
Why Does This Matter?
Concern is high. In summary, the amendments being proposed for the Lacey Act fundamentally change everything about how most animals in the pet trade are managed by the Federal Government, specifically by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The amendments, if enacted, include nationwide bans on species deemed injurious in any part of the country, i.e. Pterois spp. Lionfishes are already banned in Florida, such bans could now become nationwide, even in extreme locations like Minnesota or Montana where the species could never survive.
The regulation of the importation of animals into the United States will shift from a blacklist that prohibits species from entering the country to a whitelist of allowable species. The whitelist would purportedly initially include species in the trade already, although it is entirely unclear what the “minimal quantities” specification is, and how such a list would function when it comes to species that aren’t even scientifically described. The vagueries of the wording leave many to speculate that only extremely common species might wind up on the initial whitelist.
Any species not on the whitelist will be deemed injurious by default and must be proven otherwise in order to be added to the whitelist, which historically requires an extremely laborious review process of each and every species.
Even more concerning is that species would be prohibited from crossing state lines unless they are on the whitelist.
While the spirit of these amendments is reportedly to prevent the next pandemic or next invasive species, there are already effective legal tools in place to properly manage these concerns at both the State and Federal levels. As a result, the main outcome of these measures would be the crippling of most of the pet industry and hobby, leaving only remnants of the vibrant pastime we currently know and enjoy. The aquarium industry alone is currently thought to represent a 15- to 20-billion dollar industry, yet it would be effectively ended should these Lacey Act amendments be included in the Bipartisan Innovation Act, ultimately becoming law. Shuttering an entire industry goes squarely against the grain of an Act meant to support and encourage American business.
Consider The Source
Rumors around this situation are problematic. Some people have vocally said, “this will never pass.”
Others suggest that we should not read the letter of the law, downplaying concern and insisting that no one should worry about the broad and vague language of the amendments.
Some reef aquarists interpret the lack of an explicit mention of corals to suggest that they would somehow not be regulated under these revisions, yet corals are animals and are already under the full authority of the US FWS, which strongly suggests corals are part of these proposals.
Another speculation was that “reconciliation” was not going to happen because the House and Senate are simply running out of time in the legislative calendar before midterm elections become the top priority. And yet, the proposals are clearly heading towards the reconciliation process at this time.
Matt Pedersen is a Sr. Editor and Associate Publisher with Reef To Rainforest Media, LLC & CORAL Magazines, and is a Sr. Editor and Publishing Partner with Aquatic Media Press, LLC & AMAZONAS Magazine. Matt has kept aquariums for 38 years, has worked in most facets of the aquarium trade, is an active aquarist and fish breeder (both marine and freshwater), and was recognized with the 2009 MASNA Award as the MASNA Aquarist of the Year.