global trade in corals: info from the USFWS

Rob Carter rcarter at
Fri Mar 3 12:05:06 EST 2000

> Does anyone on the coral list *know* what rules, laws, or regulations
> apply to importation of coral (including soft corals) into the United
> States, whether for personal or commercial use?  If the rules could be
> expressed in a few hundred words (a few dozen would be better), I am
> sure the List would be interested. Dive safe, John*

This has been a long thread but I thought many of you would like the
following information. I took the liberty of contacting the US Fish and
Wildlife Service to see what they could tell me. The following text is from
a reply sent by Mike Barandiaran who works in the Miami, FL regional
office. I complement him on his thoroughness. 

 * * * * * 

I am sending general information about the
service and the regulation of coral trade. I hope this will provide you and
you colleagues with a guideline of how to navigate this bureaucratic system
(I'll try to give you the abridged version).

     As you probably already know the USFWS is primarily charged with
implementing regulations that are meant to aid in the conservation of
protected species of fauna and flora.  Within the USFWS there is a division
of law enforcement that works to ensure the compliance of various
conservation treaties, laws and regulations. FWS employs Special Agents and
Wildlife inspectors for these duties. Most of the international trade
(imports exports and re-exports) takes place though designated,
undesignated and special ports. Unlike the US Customs Service (USCS) which
has a presence at every U.S. port of entry, the FWS only has a presence in
the above mentioned areas (If needed I can mail you list of all these
different ports).

     For the most part, Wildlife Inspectors are the officers that will
carry out the inspections and administrative work that is related to
wildlife trade.  Although most of the Wildlife Inspectors are trained in
some field of natural science, there is no way that any of us can be
experts on all the species of wildlife that transits the country (on any
given day there can be anything from mollusks, to mammals and on occasions
protected plants).  For this purpose it is required that the person or
institution that is importing or exporting  the species in question provide
a list of the species in the shipment. This is done by filling out a USFWS
Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife form,
otherwise known as the 3-177 form (the Gov. loves all these codes for
forms). Through this form the importer/exporter (imp/exp) provides
information on the quantity, country of origin, scientific names, etc, for
the wildlife in question. It is important to note that when the service
refers to spp it means not only all live individuals, but also parts,
samples, products and derivatives from the spp in question (and though we
get our share of it, fortunately excrement is excluded). Depending on the
spp the service might share jurisdiction with other federal agencies (i.e.
plants with USDA or marine mammals with the National Marine Fisheries).

     The service differentiates between commercial and non- commercial
shipments. Commercial refers to any shipments where the imp/exp will reap
financial rewards or is soliciting trade (Ex. sending samples for possible
future trade).
Commercial traders must be licensed through the service and pay fees on
their shipments. Non-commercial refers to sport hunted trophies, items for
personal use, personal pets and transport of spp for aquariums, zoos,
universities or other scientific/research institutions. Non-commercial
shipments pay no fees for their imports or exports, unless there are any
after hour charges (overtime) or are applying for certain import/export

     OK, finally to corals....all species of corals (soft and hard corals)
are regulated by the USFWS and have to be declared. Soft coral are not
listed under any protected list and do not require any special permits for
their import or export, unless the country of their origin requires some
special form for their export, or if they are attached to a hard coral base
(Scleractinia, otherwise called live-rock. Don't ask me where that term
came from). All the spp of hard coral are listed as appendix II under the
Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora (CITES) and as such require CITES permits to enter or exit the
U.S.  Although the Treaty requires CITES permits for all hard coral in the
trade (commercial and non) there is an exceptions to this rule in the U.S.
and soon in Canada. This is called the personal baggage exception, which
allows tourists or travelers to enter or exit the U.S. with a "reasonable"
quantity of coral pieces (mostly coral jewelry) under their possession and
with their personal baggage (no matter if they are traveling by ship,
plane, etc).  Scientists/researchers fall under the personal baggage
exception, if the coral is in a small quantity and for their own personal
use. However, for the most part it is for a institution and does require a
declaration and CITES permits. This exception does not apply if the coral's
country of origin has a ban on any coral exports, or if the personally
owned coral is traveling in the mail or shipped separately through air/sea
cargo (since it is not considered personal accompanying baggage) .

     This does not mean that coral cannot legally transit through the mail
or air/sea cargo, it just means that the shipment must be accompanied by a
CITES permit and if at all possible or ideally a 3-177 form. That way if
and when USCS intercepts and inspects one of these mail shipments, the FWS
can be notified and the shipment can be cleared for import. For exports
through the mail, the shipment and the paperwork has to be presented to a
FWS official in order to have the shipment inspected or at the very least
have the CITES permit validated (for exports this also applies to shipments
accompanying personal baggage and air/sea cargo).  Ideally all coral
imports for accredited scientific/research facilities should come through a
FWS designated port, sine there are Wildlife Inspectors available to carry
out the necessary inspections and administrative work (this is particularly
true if the coral is shipped by air/sea cargo).

     Recognizing that scientists/researchers from accredited institutions
may not always be able to enter through certain ports, the FWS does allow
for these individuals and institutions to file a 3-177 and present their
entire declaration package  (includes the 3-177, original CITES permit and
any other pertaining documentation, such  as letter form the institution,
other type of foreign permits, etc. The extra documentation varies on a
case by case basis), within 180 days from the day of importation. This
declaration should be presented to a designated port of entry in the area
that the importation took place.  FWS ports of entry are located within
separate Regions of the country and may have some different port-policies
as to haw to conduct an inspection or clearance of a shipment, so it is
always a good idea to phone them ahead of time (as to avoid any
bureaucratic surprises).

       Before concluding this almost essay type answer, allow me to try to
answer some other common questions. The Indo-Pacific area is open to the
legal trade of all coral types (individual countries may have different
criteria or bans). The Caribbean is closed for any type of commercial
trade, but nations do allow for permits for scientific and research
purposes (some Caribbean nations also allow for a quota of their coral to
be harvested for the manufacture and legal trade of coral jewelry). When
presenting a declaration package to FWS  the original paperwork (i.e.
original 3-177, CITES permit or other export permits) must be surrendered
to the appropriate authorities (i.e. primarily Wildlife Inspectors), or in
many cases to USCS inspectors. USCS inspectors have the authority to assist
and regulate the enforcement of wildlife trade (this is common since there
are only 93 Wildlife Inspectors in the U.S. while in the port of Miami,
alone, there are 400+ USCS inspectors).  The only time an original CITES
does not have to be surrendered to the FWS is when it clearly states that
it is a multiple use permit and the allotted quota stated on the permit has
not been reached. Unofficially, I would recommend that If there are no FWS
Wildlife Inspectors available or the USCS Inspector is not in direct phone
contact with a FWS Inspector, that the scientist/researcher hold on to
their original documents and surrender only copies.

      Remember that you have up to 180 days to file the declaration for
corals. It is also recommended that the institution provide as many copies
as they would need for their records. The FWS will  stamp and return these
copies; this is particularly important if the institution is going to
re-export any of their coral to a another institution overseas.  The coral
to be re-exported will need a re-export CITES permit that can be applied
for at most designated FWS ports or at the Office of Management Authority
in Arlington, VA (there is a $25.00 application fee and it takes ten to
thirty days to obtain a permit). For spp other than hard coral and not
protected under any regulations or laws, the service also allows accredited
scientific/research institutions to import by mail with out having to
declare the shipment. It always best to contact the FWS and check on this
prior to the shipment. Finally, note that any wildlife imported into the
country has to be declared to the USCS on their declaration form (that is
the long/slim paper that you always receive prior to arriving in the U.S.).
Failure to declare to Customs has been a headache to many, since they may
think that there is an attempt to smuggle.

I hope this will be enough to answer most of your
questions, we do have the unabridged version available to mail, if you are
interested. Please remember that the above information is not the final
authority for all scenarios and that there may be certain differences and
circumstances that may need to be addressed on a case by case basis (wow!
was that a political statement or what?). So please feel free to contact
the FWS if you would need further information.  Best of luck with your
research and work.

Mike. B

* * * * * 

Robert W. Carter                                          Rob Carter
University of Miami/RSMAS/MBF               1700 SW 1 Ave #601
4600 Rickenbacker Cswy                          Miami FL 33129
Miami FL 33149

305.361.4642 (w)                                        305.856.2715 (h)
305.361.4600 (fax)

rcarter at

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