A federal judge has ruled against California’s ban on selling and importing alligator and crocodile products.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Kimberly Mueller issued the ruling March 6, more than three years after Louisiana joined retailers across the nation to sue the state for its decision to criminalize the products.
In the judgement, Mueller found federal Endangered Species Act rules allowing the import and sale of these products overruled the state’s ban.
“California law prohibits what the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife has authorized under the Endangered Species Act, so the state’s laws are preempted,” Mueller wrote.
In December 2019, retailers in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and California joined the state of Louisiana in two lawsuits seeking to stop the state from enforcing its ban. The legal actions were combined by the court.
In 1970, the California Legislature enacted a similar ban on the import and sale of exotic animal products, including products made from alligators and crocodiles. But that ban was deemed unconstitutional and unenforceable after The Fouke Company, which owns a reptile processing plant in South Carolina, and Los Angeles-based Gary’s Leather Creations sued the state in 1979. The court in that case also found the state ban was preempted by the same federal laws.
California’s ban remained on the books but was not enforced as state lawmakers issued exemptions to allow sales. However, those exemptions expired at the end of 2019, paving the way for the prohibition to take effect.
With the ban, violators would have faced up to a $5,000 fine or six months in prison, or both.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued rules allowing the trade of alligator and crocodile products in some cases, under the Endangered Species Act. American alligators are not federally listed as threatened or endangered but they are treated as threatened because their products can be difficult to distinguish from other threatened crocodilians, according to the court ruling.
Federal law also allows crocodile products to be traded with a permit, and in some cases without a permit, even though the reptile is threatened, the judge said.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry argued that the economy surrounding alligators played a key role in bringing back the American alligator population, and that it was important in protecting the wetlands. He lauded the ruling as a “huge victory” for Louisiana and the alligator industry.
“The alligator trade has directly led to the resurgence and conservation of the American alligator as well the protection and maintenance of their natural wetland habitat,” Landry said in a press release. “California’s ban would have completely disrupted the entire supply chain – not only decimating the industry and our wetland protection programs, but also removing over $100 million from Louisiana’s annual economy.”
For Mickey Fagan, owner of M&D Gator Products in Dade City, Florida, the ruling will allow him and other retailers to continue doing business in California.
“As far as industry-wide, it’s very good,” Fagan told The Epoch Times. Fagan was a party to the lawsuit against the ban.
If California’s ban was allowed, other states across the country would likely follow, he added.
“Pretty soon, there would be no alligator products,” he said.
Texas-based Magna Leather Company owner Alex Trachter, who also participated in the lawsuit, said he appreciated the ruling.
“I do business in 50 states and California is just one of them, but obviously, if we can continue to sell to California, it helps,” Trachter told The Epoch Times.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office did not return a request for comment about the lawsuit.