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What are Fish and Wildlife Restrictions?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 17, 2024
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One of the main reasons that people travel is to experience new scenery. Being surrounded by completely new vegetation and animals can be an inspiring experience. As a traveler, however, it is important to remember that the ecology of each habitat and region on the planet has taken millennia to create. In fact, an ecosystem can be completely thrown off by the introduction of just one seed from a foreign plant.

The same is true for animals. If only a few animals are introduced to a new region, they might overrun the area and completely throw off the ecosystem. Because of these reasons, many governments are very specific about what kinds of plants and animals can be imported into or exported from their country.

Before you travel, it is important to know about the fish and wildlife restrictions that you may experience during your trip. Fish and wildlife restrictions cover plants, animals, and even some foods. Any foods that could be carrying live organisms may be seized and destroyed by customs.

Fresh fruits and vegetables may not be allowed to cross borders because their seeds could be viable for germination. If you do want to bring some culinary treats home with you, consider dried spices or grains; anything that has been bottled such as wine, sauces, or preserves; or treats such as chocolates and candies. These should pass through customs with no trouble.

In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, live plants are also banned under many customs policies. Because of the incredible reproduction abilities of plants, a single seedling can pose a major threat to an ecological system. The plant could overrun other plants that are important to a system. Furthermore, if the plant carried a virus, it could wipe out crops or areas of wildlife throughout a country. Not only could this create environmental problems, but it might also threaten important food supplies.

If you are considering transporting an animal during your international trip, be sure that you are aware of the fish and wildlife restrictions on animals. Every country has a different set of rules about animals. Some animals are not permitted to pass through customs at all. Others are held by customs officials for a quarantine period before they are released to the owner. If you want to bring your pet along on your vacation, be sure to research the fish and wildlife customs specifications for every country that you will visit.

For more information on US fish and wildlife customs, visit www.customs.ustreas.gov.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By jcraig — On May 15, 2012

@kentuckycat - I believe you are correct that the Fish and Wildlife Service has individuals who monitor those types of things. I don't know if they do it full time or just get called in when the customs officials identify something that needs investigation.

As far as states go, I believe there are certain laws about being able to transport wildlife across borders. I think sometimes the laws apply to relatively common animals like deer. I know I was interested in getting a hedgehog as a pet one time, and there were certain laws about getting documentation concerning where they came from and various licenses you had to worry about.

Even within states, different counties can have regulations. Right now, the emerald ash borer is a big problem in a lot of places. I go camping a lot, and you can't even carry firewood in the back of your truck if it has come from the adjacent county.

By kentuckycat — On May 15, 2012

@jmc88 - Good point about the cost aspect. I had something called tree of heaven in my backyard, and it was nearly impossible to get rid of. I can only imagine how expensive it would be to get rid of a whole tract of them.

What I was wondering is what part of the government exactly handles the types of customs that deals with plants and animals? The article mentions US fish and wildlife customs. Is this a division of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, or is it something to do with the US Customs branch. I guess they could also work together.

I was also wondering if certain states had various measures in place to stop things like illegal fish and wildlife and endangered species from crossing their borders.

By jmc88 — On May 14, 2012

@TreeMan - There are literally thousands of those types of species in the United States. There are several different classifications for them, but generally, the plants and animals that get loose into the wild are called exotic invasive species. They are usually generalists that can adapt to a wide range of conditions and compete for resources better than native species.

If you live in the eastern United States, there are several invasive forest plants. Amur honeysuckle is a big problem now. Kudzu is another major pest plant species. It is a vine from Asia that can grow up to a foot per day and can choke out anything growing on the ground. Some others are multiflora rose, burning bush, and Oriental bittersweet.

These plants are such a problem not only because they ruin the ecosystem, but because they cost a ton of money to remove.

By TreeMan — On May 13, 2012

Interesting. I never really thought about how much trouble it might cause by just having a piece of fruit cross the border.

That being said, I am not aware of any major problems that have been caused by foreign seeds or animals crossing the borders outside of a few cases. I did just read an article a couple of weeks ago about a new type of fish getting into the streams in the southwest and causing a lot of problems. I think it ate a lot of the other fish that were already in the rivers.

If customs are so diligent about stopping those types of things from getting into the country, how do things ever get across? Also, does anyone know of any other examples of different plants or animals that have come across the border?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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