Sea urchins would become exempt from federal inspections, as shellfish currently are, under a bill introduced Friday by the U.S. representatives from Maine, the state with the second most valuable sea urchin industry.

Since 2011, sea urchins have been subject to inspections when entering the state from Canada for processing and when exported from the country.

But that process delays the perishable product in getting to its markets, which are mostly in Asia, sometimes causing it to go bad beforehand, according to a news release from Reps. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, and Bruce Poliquin, a Republican.

“Sometimes the urchins end up sitting in a hot warehouse for days and at times waiting for an inspection, and this has resulted in the loss of a very valuable product,” Pingree, who represents the 1st District, said in a statement.

An exemption for shellfish has existed since the 1980s, the news release said, and Maine’s federal lawmakers want to extend that to sea urchins.

The industry employs more than 600 residents, mostly harvesters in Washington County for whom the work supplements other types of fishing, such as lobstering. Others work for Portland-area processors, according to background information about the bill provided by Poliquin’s office.

“This legislation will root out overly burdensome and unnecessary regulations by the federal government to ensure this industry continues to thrive and help protect these Maine jobs,” Poliquin, who represents the 2nd District, said in a statement.

Last year, the state’s 2 million-pound fishery was valued at $5.4 million, second only to California’s.

The industry was at its height in the 1990s, when Maine’s fishery was worth as much as $42 million, but experienced a steady decline before stabilizing about 10 years ago, figures from the Maine Department of Marine Resources show.

If urchins became endangered, the bill would revoke the exemption on inspections, the news release said.

“This bill represents a rare example of close cooperation between a Democrat and a Republican to cut through unnecessary federal regulations and help small businesses to grow and thrive,” said Atchan Tamaki, president of the Maine Sea Urchin and Sea Cucumber Association, in a statement.

Sea urchins have a shelf life of about a week, including the time it takes for them to be processed and shipped, according to Poliquin’s office.

Along with starfish, the creatures are classified as echinoderms. In the existing law, shellfish are defined as invertebrate animals with an exoskeleton and include, but are not limited to, mollusks and crustaceans.