Fish and Wildlife (FW) and CITES Explained


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are organizations that regulate the import and export of wildlife. Although they are similar, they are not the same. Goods can contain Fish and Wildlife, but not be classified under CITES – although all products classified under CITES will contain Fish and Wildlife.

An Overview of Fish and Wildlife (FW)

According to the website, Fish and Wildlife consists of “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.”

One is required to obtain a license to commercially import or export any Fish and Wildlife, unless the animal is otherwise exempted from FWS import and export license regulations.

This import/export license can only be obtained by a U.S. importer or exporter. Foreign entities that are exporting to a U.S. consignee cannot be the license holder – it must be in the name of the U.S. consignee. The license is not recognized outside of the U.S. For companies on behalf of, or doing business as, the license will need to be issued to the company whose name will appear on invoices and shipping documents.

Common Fish and Wildlife products would be shirts or jackets with buttons made from Mother of Pearl (shell) or wood pieces with inlaid Mother of Pearl decor.

An Overview of CITES

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species protects many species of animals and plants to ensure that their survival is not threatened by commercial demand. CITES declares it illegal to use endangered animals, such as sea turtles or elephants, for commercial trade. Some protected animals are allowed for commercial use, given that they were farmed or legally trapped in the wild. In order to ship these protected animals, one is required to have the proper documentation and permits clearly showing their origin and/or method of capture.

CITES lists endangered animals under one of three levels of protection: Appendix I, II, or III. The most stringent controls are placed on species that fall into the Appendix I category, which require specialized permits for import or export. Appendices II and III require permits and certificates of origin, but may not be subject to exams as meticulous as those required for Appendix I species.

Items containing species protected under CITES commonly appear as shoes and purses made from caiman, alligator, crocodile, or python.

The customs clearance process is more in-depth, and can take longer for any products containing Fish and Wildlife or especially any products under CITES.

If the origin of animal products is not properly declared, then customs will seize the goods. Too many instances of failures to comply with U.S. FW/CITES laws and regulations could result in having your import/export permit denied renewal or being blacklisted from importing animals and their products. In order to ensure a smooth clearance, it is necessary to obtain the correct permits, declare all items properly, and submit all documentation that clearly traces the lawful origin of the materials.