In ruling N326746 (July 21, 2022), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discussed the country of origin of Sea Urchin Roe Skeins. The Sea Urchin Roe (also known as “Uni”) is an organ of the sea urchin. Five strips of Uni reside within the structure of an urchin, and range in color from rich gold to light yellow. The strips bear a resemblance to tongue in shape and have an outer texture with a creamy consistency.
The sea urchins are harvested by divers from Chinese, Mexican, or Russian flagged vessels in Japan. The sea urchins then undergo processing in various plants within Japan. These processes consist of cutting the shell around the mouth, the removal of the mouth, splitting the shell for roe extraction, cleaning, draining, and treating the roe with alum for preservative purposes. The roe skeins are then sorted by quality and size before they are packed. Finally, the items are shipped by air to the United States for immediate use and consumption.
CBP notes in its ruling that, per 19 CR 134.1(b), the country of origin of an item is defined as “the country of manufacture, production, or growth of any article of foreign origin entering the United States. Further work or material added to an article in another country must effect a substantial transformation in order to render such other country the ‘country of origin’ within the meaning of the marking regulations.” In addition, CBP notes that a substantial transformation occurs “when an article emerges from a process with a new name, character or use different from that possessed by the article prior to processing.” However, if the manufacturing or combining process is minor and leaves the identity of the article intact, then no substantial transformation occurs.
In addition, there exists a specialized rule (known as the “Law of the Flag”) that governs seafood articles. This rule states that, unless the animal was caught or harvested within the territorial waters of a country, the country of origin of said article follows the flag of the catching vessel. In this case, the Uni is harvested by Chinese, Mexican, or Russian-flag vessels in the territorial waters of Japan. However, the Uni does not undergo substantial transformation in the processing in Japan. As such, CBP determined that the country of origin of the Uni would be China, Mexico, or Russia, respectively, depending on the catching vessel.