The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is an agency of the Federal Government within the US Department of the Interior. The FWS is dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife, and natural habitats. The mission is "working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people."
Overview of the FWS Import/Export Program
The United States is one of the world’s largest markets for wildlife, and wildlife parts and products (hereafter referred to as wildlife). Illegal trafficking remains a significant threat to animal and plant species around the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) upholds U.S. responsibilities to monitor wildlife trade and prevent illegal importation and exportation of species that are regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and U.S. wildlife laws and regulations. FWS also helps protect U.S. wildlife resources and habitat by preventing the importation and interstate transport of injurious species. Stemming the unlawful commercial exploitation of wildlife is a priority for FWS. This work involves preventing illegal trafficking in U.S. resources both in this country and overseas. While much of this effort focuses on investigations in the United States, FWS special agents and wildlife inspectors work together to intercept unlawful exports of native wildlife and plants.
FWS’s mandate to enforce wildlife trade laws encompasses a concomitant responsibility to deal fairly and efficiently with the businesses, organizations, and individuals that import and export wildlife. By law, virtually all wildlife imports and exports must be declared to FWS and cleared by FWS wildlife officers. The speed and efficiency of wildlife inspection operations affect the ability of businesses to engage profitably in legal wildlife trade as well as the international movement of wildlife for purposes that range from scientific research to public entertainment. FWS’s trade monitoring efforts also determine the ease with which individual Americans can travel internationally with wildlife, move hunting trophies across U.S. borders, or ship household goods made from wildlife overseas and back again.
FWS officers provide guidance to individuals and businesses to help them comply with wildlife laws and expedite their legal import/export transactions. Customer service efforts also include using technology to facilitate trade, streamline the import/export community’s interactions with FWS, and improve public access to information about wildlife trade laws and regulations.
The Automated Commercial Environment/International Trade Data System (ACE/ITDS) directly supports the accomplishment of three strategic goals in the FWS Office of Law Enforcement (FWS-OLE) program itself. This project will provide the technological platform necessary for the success of FWS efforts to prevent the unlawful import/export of foreign fish, wildlife and plants (FWS-OLE Global Wildlife Trafficking Strategic Goal). It will also play a critical role in protecting U.S. resources from global exploitation (FWS-OLE Wildlife Protection Strategic Goal) and allowing the expeditious movement of legal wildlife through U.S. ports of entry (FWS-OLE Facilitate Legal Trade Strategic Goal).
General FWS Import/Export Requirements
FWS begins the international trade process with a determination of whether the commodities in international trade are subject to FWS review and clearance. The Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act grant FWS the broad authority to inspect any shipment imported or exported, whether or not such shipments are openly declared as wildlife. These commodities (commercial, noncommercial, scientific, or personal) may be imported or exported via air and ocean cargo, international mail, commercial truck, rail, other vehicle, and passenger modes. Currently, the trade declares their wildlife directly to FWS using the FWS electronic filing system (eDecs) or through paper filings.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1544) defines the term “fish or wildlife” as “any member of the animal kingdom, including without limitation any mammal, fish, bird (including any migratory, nonmigratory, or endangered bird for which protection is also afforded by treaty or other international agreement), amphibian, reptile, mollusk, crustacean, arthropod or other invertebrate, and includes any part, product, egg, or offspring thereof, or the dead body or parts thereof.”
FWS Import/Export License
The import or export of wildlife for commercial purposes (see 50 CFR Part 14) that requires clearance by FWS requires the importer/exporter to obtain an FWS import/export license prior to importing or exporting. The license is valid for up to one year.
FWS Prior Notification
FWS requires the trade to notify the FWS inspectors at the port of entry a minimum of 48 hours in advance of the import of any live or perishable wildlife shipment that requires clearance by FWS. FWS also requires the trade to notify the FWS inspectors at the port of export a minimum of 48 hours in advance of the export of any wildlife shipment. This prior notification ensures that FWS has staff available to process the shipment in an efficient manner.
Wildlife Port of Entry/Exit
Wildlife that requires clearance by FWS must be imported or exported through an authorized port of entry/exit. ACE, through data submitted with the entry, will validate if the commodity is imported at an authorized FWS port. If the validation determines the wildlife shipment is not at an authorized port, the entry will be rejected by ACE and the trade will need to move the shipment to an appropriate port and refile their entry.
FWS eDecs Filer Account
The FWS eDecs system currently requires filers to create an electronic filer account in order to submit data directly to FWS. Customs brokers or authorized importers who file the FWS Message Set through ACE must have an eDecs filer account.
FWS Form 3-177 Requirements
FWS requires the filing of FWS Form 3-177 either in paper or in an electronic equivalent for most wildlife upon import (under FWS laws, this is upon arrival and not entry into U.S. commerce) and prior to export, as well as a document package (either paper or electronic) with accompanying/supporting documentation. The burden of declaration or proof of exemption is upon the importer.
Along with the FWS Form 3-177 data, the trade is required to submit accompanying or supporting documentation as part of the clearance process. This documentation consists of original wildlife 9 permits and certificates (both U.S. issued and foreign-issued) when required, transaction documents (including invoices, packing lists, bills of sale that detail the entities involved in the transaction as well as general commodity information); commodity specific documents (including veterinary or health certificates as required for live wildlife, wildlife inventories, skin tag or tattoo lists, caviar labeling information); transportation documents; and copies of other agency documents.
The required documents vary depending upon the shipment’s origin and destination, the type of wildlife, the mode of transport, and other factors. All of the data in these documents are used to determine admissibility or clearance of imports, or clearance for export. FWS currently allows for the electronic submission of scanned documents as part of filing Form 3-177 data in eDecs for both imports and exports.
Original permits and certificates are submitted separately in hard copy form to complete the FWS document package and are required before the shipment can be fully processed. All documents must be received during the admissibility process prior to clearance. For imports, clearance must be obtained from FWS prior to release of the shipment by CBP. For exports, clearance must be obtained prior to the physical loading for export. By law, FWS cannot accept scanned images of wildlife permits and certificates, other than for initial review. The majority of wildlife permits and certificates are issued by foreign countries for import shipments and there is no valid electronic equivalent.
For imports under ITDS, if the trade chooses to file their Form 3-177 data using the ACE FWS Message Set, the accompanying documents may be uploaded in the ACE Document Image System (DIS) for the most efficient processing. Alternatively, the trade may provide the accompanying documents directly to FWS in paper. FWS will not begin processing of the ACE FWS Message Set until all required documentation is received. Documentation uploaded to DIS for multiple agency use must be coded to include FWS. If the trade chooses to file their Form 3-177 data using eDecs, they will continue to either upload their accompanying documentation as part of the eDec filing or submit the documentation directly to FWS in paper form. The trade will continue to directly submit the hard copy original CITES documents and foreign law permits to the applicable FWS wildlife inspection office as appropriate.
If filing Form 3-177 data in ACE, the trade will also provide data required by FWS through submission of manifest and entry data. Common shipment data required by FWS through FWS Form 3-177 such as the port of clearance (entry), the entry number, carrier name, and master and house bill information will be provided to CBP for transmission to FWS in lieu of collection through the ACE FWS Message Set.
For express carrier shipments, the shipment tracking information is also provided with the CBP data rather than the PGA message set. The trade must file directly with FWS, either electronically in FWS eDecs or in paper for wildlife imports when a CBP entry is not filed such as certain imports into U.S. territories, movements into Foreign Trade Zones or other customs duty-free areas, imports under customs carnet, certain low value or informal imports, etc. If an entry is subsequently submitted electronically to CBP in ACE associated with one of these previously processed FWS imports, the trade will file the eDec confirmation number in lieu of filing Form 3-177 data in ACE.
For the export of wildlife, the trade will file electronically in eDecs prior to export. If the shipment requires filing in the Automated Export System (AES), the trade will provide their eDecs confirmation or disclaim the need for FWS clearance. See the FWS export guidance in Appendix Q and X of the AESTIR for further information.
CITES Permits and Certificates
Wildlife shipments containing species listed in one of the Appendices to CITES require CITES documents for import and export/re-export. CITES documents consist of an original document(s) that must be submitted directly to FWS as part of the FWS declaration process, either at the time of import or prior to export. If uploading accompanying documents in DIS associated with an FWS ACE Message Set, the trade should upload a copy of any CITES documents to allow for advanced screening and document exam, in addition to providing the CITES document number in the FWS Message Set. However, the original CITES documents must continue to be submitted directly with the appropriate FWS wildlife inspection office prior to clearance.
For exports, the trade will continue to upload electronic images of CITES documents as part of their eDecs filing and submit the original documents to the wildlife inspection office as part of the FWS declaration process.
Protected Species Permits
Wildlife import shipments that require original paper permits issued by FWS (or in some limited cases for certain species, the National Marine Fisheries Service) that authorize the import of certain wild birds, injurious species, endangered or threatened species, marine mammals, migratory birds, and bald or golden eagles are required to be submitted directly to FWS at the time of import. If uploading accompanying documents in DIS associated with an FWS ACE Message Set, the trade may upload a copy of any protected species permits for advance screening and document exam, in addition to providing the permit number in the FWS Message Set. However, the original document must be submitted directly to the appropriate FWS wildlife inspection office prior to clearance.
For exports, the trade will continue to upload images of protected species permits as part of their eDecs filing and submit the original documents to the wildlife inspection office as part of the FWS declaration process.
Foreign Law Permits and Certificates
Wildlife import shipments that require original paper exports permits issued by foreign governments that authorize the take, possession, transport or sale of wildlife are required to be submitted directly to FWS at the time of import. If uploading accompanying documents in DIS as part of an FWS ACE Message Set, the trade should upload a copy of any documents into DIS for advance screening and document exam, in addition to providing the document number in the FWS Message Set; however, the original document must be submitted directly to the appropriate FWS wildlife inspection office prior to clearance.