Who is PIJAC and How Are They Helping Us?

pijac2Last week I told you about the recent Endangered Species Act (ESA) coral listings and how they could mean the end of our hobby. This week I wanted to take a closer look at Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and what they’ve been doing to fight for our interests from this and future legislation.

Let’s see how PIJAC fits into the picture by first taking a look at their mission:

  • PROMOTE responsible pet ownership and animal welfare
  • FOSTER environmental stewardship &
  • ENSURE the availability of pets

PIJAC has been an advocate of the pet industry for more than 35 years. Their accomplishments include helping raise the standards of animal care, developing information and resources for pet owners and stores, creating programs and campaigns to promote protection of the natural environment, and working to protect the right to own a pet.

In light of recent ESA coral listings, the last part is of particular importance to us as hobbyists. This is because PIJAC functions as a national watchdog organization that addresses legislation which can cause hurt our ability to own and keep pets. They do this by monitoring legislation at all levels of government, providing testimony and comments on legislation, empowering members with the tools they need to respond to legislative issues, and by building relationships and networks with government agencies, industry groups, and other organizations.

While their work does encompass the pet industry as a whole, the PIJAC Aquatics Committee is focused on protecting the aquatics community. The priorities of this committee are determined by folks in our hobby and industry, such as Sandy Moore (Co-Chair), Chris Buerner (Co-Chair), Julian Sprung, Dustin Dorton, Kevin Kohen, Marshall Meyers (Advisor). This committee has accomplished much and is still hard at work, as outlined in a recent Issue Update:

The PIJAC Aquatics Committee is in the process of reviewing petitions and determinations, consulting authoritative members of the scientific community, and strategizing with legal counsel to ensure that decisions made by NOAA to list these species are indeed supported by the best available scientific data, and that the value of the ESA is not undermined due it’s novel application to protect species for which populations, distributions, and adaptability to anticipated climate change are not well enough documented or understood.”

Below is an excerpt of a recent Issue Update (entitled “PIJAC’s Aquatic Committee: Activities Protecting the Aquatics Community”) which gives an overview of the legislation and PIJAC’s actions in the aquatics industry since 2009. Please take a moment to read through this and gain a better understand of what PIJAC has been working on since the original petition to list corals. Pay particular attention to the last paragraph, which explains why many folks (including us here at Saltwater Smarts) are genuinely concerned about what the future holds for our hobby.

Since the October 2009 Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petition to list 83 species of corals as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a group of aquatics industry leaders worked with PIJAC to identify the trade impact associated with a NOAA determination to list these species and to develop strategies to ensure a more favorable outcome.

In 2011, several environmental organizations led by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) drafted a trade impacting federal Coral Reef bill for introduction by the late honorable Senator Daniel K. Inouye. PIJAC submitted a detailed analysis of the draft bill, which led to the Senator’s decision to not introduce the bill. Over the past few years, PIJAC critiqued and provided testimony on a large number of trade-banning bills introduced in the Hawaiian legislature, as well as responded to several proposed regulations governing Hawaii’s ornamental aquarium industry. More recently, PIJAC is dealing with ever increasing anti-trade rhetoric and activity from the animal rights and environmental activist communities. PIJAC is currently involved in a Court of Appeals case involving Hawaii’s aquarium collection permit system, the culmination of a lawsuit brought against the state of Hawaii by one such group. All of these activities have created a greater sense of urgency for the ornamental aquatics industry to organize to ensure the future of a healthy, viable and defensible industry and hobby.

In October 2012 a handful of concerned aquatics industry associates established a committee within PIJAC with the goal of addressing increasingly complex issues pertaining to the marine ornamental trade. At that time, numerous industry participants were invited to support the effort and to help strategize how best to address the growing threats facing the ornamental aquatics community. A restricted funds account was also established where direct contributions could be received to help fund PIJAC’s expenditures incurred via this committees efforts. For the past 2 years, this committee has been engaged with the scientific community, with various regulatory agencies, and with legal counsel specializing in environmental law. PIJAC has and continues to support reasonable laws, regulations, and science-based policies and has successfully opposed trade bans and poorly crafted regulations. These efforts require fundraising as well as communicating those efforts to our industry.

On September 10, 2014, NOAA’s Final Rule listing 20 additional coral species as threatened was published in the Federal Register. This is a significant and historic decision, and could have sweeping impacts on all aspects of our aquatics industry, as well as industries enjoying terrestrial species, captive bred or otherwise, whose natural wild populations are deemed as potentially threatened due to climate change. Once the 273-page Final Rule is fully reviewed, PIJAC, in consultation with its lawyers, will develop a legal strategy for addressing this final listing, including how best to respond to the November 10, 2014, deadline to
provide comments on a potential ESA Section 4(d) rule. Such a strategy may include developing comments for submission to NOAA regarding a 4(d) rule, meeting with NOAA to discuss these comments, and evaluating other opportunities to further clarify or challenge certain aspects of the final rule. It is far from clear at this point how the listing decision will impact the pet industry and hobby. As we better understand the scope and full effect of this action, we will communicate with the industry and hobby community regarding these matters.

Additionally, there have been two other petitions filed to list a large number of aquatic species to the ESA. A July 2013 WildEarth Guardians petition to List 81 fish species was met with the agency’s February 24, 2014 publishing a 90 day finding that action may be warranted for a number of the petitioned species, specifically Pterapogon kauderni (Bangaii cardinalfish). In September 2012 the CBD filed a petition to list eight species of Pomacentrid reef fish (damselfishes) under the ESA to which, on September 3, 2014, NOAA issued its 90 day finding that Amphiprion percula (Percula Clownfish) did warrant a status review, while six of the petitioned species did not. We await the 90 day finding for the eighth, Dascyllus albisella, the Hawaiian Dascyllus damselfish. PIJAC is collecting trade, distribution and abundance data for these species and developing a response to these actions as well.

The PIJAC Aquatics Committee is in the process of reviewing petitions and determinations, consulting authoritative members of the scientific community, and strategizing with legal counsel to ensure that decisions made by NOAA to list these species are indeed supported by the best available scientific data, and that the value of the ESA is not undermined due it’s novel application to protect species for which populations, distributions, and adaptability to anticipated climate change are not well enough documented or understood.

We’re lucky to have an organization looking out for our hobby’s best interests. Please consider pledging support to the Aquatics Defense Fund, which helps the Aquatics Committee continue their work to protect our hobby. Here’s what you can do to help:

  1. Donate to PIJAC’s Aquatic Defense Fund (Saltwater Smarts has done so, and we encourage you to do so, as well.) MASNA is nearing their $5,000 donation match threshold, so please be sure to check their PIJAC donation link first.
  2. Share relevant info on this topic (such as this post) with fellow hobbyists, reef clubs, and local fish stores.
  3. Follow PIJAC to keep up on the latest (website, Facebook, Twitter).

As always, we will continue to pass along new information and updates. Speaking of which, you may have seen the waves that resonated around our hobby yesterday when United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officers began informing aquarium trade import and wholesale businesses that it was now illegal to import any of the newly ESA-listed corals. While it turned out to be a misunderstanding, this should serve as a wake up call to all aquarists.

Photo credits: Tom Gruber, PIJAC

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About "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich

"Caribbean Chris" Aldrich is co-founder and Director of Saltwater Smarts, an avid SCUBA diver, and contributor to a live rock mariculture project in the Florida Keys. He has been an aquarium hobbyist for 20 years and his current aquarium is a 127-gallon Carib reef biotope.

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