Lacey Act, United States

Source: Crs

The Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 (16 U.S.C. 3371-3378; Pub. L. 97-79, as amended) repealed the Act of May 20, 1926 (Black Bass Act; 16 U.S.C. 851-856), ยง5 of the Act of May 25, 1900 (16 U.S.C. 667e), and 18 U.S.C. 43-44 (the original Lacey Act). Elements of the repealed Acts addressing illegal trade of fish, wildlife, and plants were consolidated by the 1981 amendments.

The Lacey Act, as amended in 1981, makes it illegal to partake in the trade of fish, wildlife, or plants taken in violation of any U.S. or Indian tribal law, treaty, or regulation as well as the trade of any of these items acquired through violations of foreign law. The Secretary of Commerce is authorized to issue regulations including, but not limited to, cooperating with the Secretary of the Interior for the marking and labeling of packages containing fish or wildlife. This Act does not apply to the interstate shipment, through Indian country or a State, of any fish or wildlife or plant legally taken if the shipment is en route to a State in which the fish, wildlife, or plant may be legally possessed.

The Secretary of Commerce is authorized to assess civil penalties not in excess of $10,000 per violation by persons engaging in conduct prohibited by this Act. Civil penalties assessed by the Secretary may be reviewed by the appropriate District Court of the United States within 30 days of the assessment. The Act further provides for criminal action to be taken against persons found to be in violation of this Act. In addition, the Act allows for the seizure of all vessels, vehicles, aircraft, and other equipment used to aid in the criminal violation of this Act. Pursuant to this Act, the Secretary of Commerce may make available rewards for information furthering the intent of this Act.

Activities regulated by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act are not within the scope of this Act. Also beyond the intent of this Act are activities regulated by the Tuna Conventions Act, the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act, or any activity involving the harvest of highly migratory species.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) special agents enforce this Act against foreign-flagged vessels that fish illegally in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of South Pacific island countries and import the fish into Guam and American Samoa. In addition, NMFS enforces this Act against U.S. fishermen who operate illegally in foreign waters, such as the Bahamas. NMFS agents work cooperatively with State natural resource officers to apprehend poachers who take contaminated shellfish from closed State waters and subsequently ship those illegal products in interstate commerce. The NMFS Office of Enforcement made 99 cases under the Lacey Act in 1994. The three most significant cases involved two Japanese and one Taiwanese vessels which fished illegally in the waters of the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea and subsequently transshipped their illegal catches through Guam. Significant penalties were assessed against each of these vessels under the Lacey Act. Most other Lacey Act violations involved illegally harvested shellfish, salmon, and other fish resources taken in the United States and transported across State borders.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Congressional Research Service. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Congressional Research Service should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.

Note:The first version of this article was drawn from material prepared for the Congressional Research Service by Eugene H. Buck.


(2006). Lacey Act, United States. Retrieved from


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