Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Traveling with Marine Mammals

A recent discussion on Norsefolk

" I still think you can get walrus ivory from the people in Alaska. Bog
iron, would be rare as hens teeth and possibly a museum specimen."

As modern people we live in a complex world, with differing national laws and the reality of international travel and Customs Officers to deal with. Although the following is targeted to North Americans, I strongly suspect this advice may apply in spades to those living in Europe:

As Canadians, we get so used to the fact that the rules governing ownership (much less transport) of various natural materials within our country are quite different than those in the USA. There is also a further complication, in that Inuit people are legally allowed to hunt and kill some of these animals, where for others it is illegal (whales the best example. Ownership of the parts of the animals can be from beach finds - I had a small amount of whale bone for example, picked up as drift deposits. From things I had been told by my friends in Ostvik and Longship, I gather that inside the individual states, there can be a further range of limitations. Be well aware that Customs Officers have absolutely NO sense of humour, terrifying powers, and the ability to work on their individual discretion.

As Norse re-enactors, we all may be interested in three broad sources of raw materials which may prove a problem at Customs : walrus / seal / whale.

Walrus is legal to own in Canada (just darn difficult to get a hold off). It is however NOT legal to transport it across into the USA. (I was lucky enough to have brothers working up on Baffin Island for a while, so have a nice walrus tusk and a length of walrus hide rope. These stay safely at home when travelling south!) I have been given to understand the ownership of walrus products is severely limited within the Continental USA, because of the condition of the wild animals in Alaska. I can not tell you if *transport* is the problem, or if mere ownership is restricted in the USA.

I do know that transport of seal products is also limited and controlled. Some individual states in the USA have banned transport across their boarders. There is no limitation on seal products inside Canada. I can not tell you if this applies only to raw skins and parts, while allowing for finished goods (like boots or mitts). When I was working on World of the Norse back in 2002, I know I could transport finished objects, but not the raw skins (that was into Michigan).

Whale is a special case. I believe that mere ownership is permitted, but the source is extremely limited. Also almost impossible to access any.

Any of these materials may be sourced on the black, grey, or open legal markets:

Openly legal sources of supply will involve some form of government control - in the form of certificates of origin or official stamps. As might be expected, large increases in cost also occur. The most likely application of this would be seen in things like skins (fur animals or seal).

Grey market usually involves purchase from those legally allowed to hunt and kill, again most typically First Nations hunters. This gets to be a mess, as by strict definition of the laws, these materials are not to be re-sold to other Canadians unless the materials pass through the Government Agents (see above). Practically, this is hardly even enforced on a small case basis. (One example of this, fishermen in Newfoundland who sell seal skins from animals caught by accident in fishing nets and drowned. Technically they are required to destroy these bodies, and not even make personal use of them.)

Black market (white guys killing endangered animals and selling) is to be avoided - period. (yes - that is an editorial)

We should remember that at least in Canada, it is not technically legal to sell any products from a legal hunt of native game. So that includes things like deer antler. These restrictions are in place to try to limit poaching. Knifemakers, for example, are generally selling non native species (Stag from India as a common example).

I would be quite happy to be proven wrong on any of these details. Truth is, that you are taking a huge chance if you attempt to transport any natural raw material across an international boarder. The least severe punishment is simple confiscation.

This situation also applies to domestic animal products! As Canadians, we are still suffering from that single case of BSE in Alberta years ago (it was a cow from the USA to begin with).
- No meat products - like even a sandwich - will be allowed across into the USA. (And yes, I have seen submarine sandwiches seized and tossed!)
- Cheese may be questioned, as raw milk cheeses are not allowed.
- Raw fleece is generally not allowed, by strict application of the rules, these must be chemically washed first.
- Leathers are fine - but not any hide which has simply been stretched and dried. Anything with fur on is likely to be given a close look. (I have been questioned about tanned sheep skins with the wool remaining.)
- No natural timber may have the bark remaining. This applies to any tent poles. Customs Officers have been known to be sticky about anything that looks like an unworked plank (!!)

I would expect the situation in Europe to be even a more tangled mess. I have been told that with the EU, now passing from country to country has been greatly simplified. Hope some of our European readers can comment. (Iceland, for example, allows consumption of all the marine mammals.)
We all work way to long and hard to transform natural raw materials into the stuff of our encampments. My best advice - if there is any doubt, just leave the object safe at home.

There had been considerable research into these problems and limitations over the USA - Canada boarder in 2000, with members of both Ostvik and Longship traveling into Canada from their home bases in the Maryland region to Norstead. I had to become informed about transporting a large number of differing materials and objects when I created 'World of the Norse', which was delivered to the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Michigan (2002). The Dark Ages Re-creation Company has also undertook a number of large scale Viking Age presentations at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology in Rode Island in the years since. I personally have found the office of USA Customs at Buffalo NY extremely helpful over the years. When in doubt, it is my strongest suggestion that you merely call the indicated Customs Office well before your trip.

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