WASHINGTON, D.C. (WLOX) - Congressional leaders announced a federal fisheries disaster declaration Wednesday morning to help South Mississippi fishermen affected by the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
Lawmakers say this is the first step toward financial relief for those impacted by the spillway opening and the aftermath caused by the freshwater influx.
Mississippi leaders said in a statement that they are now working to expedite the funds set aside by the disaster declaration to provide fishermen with disaster relief more quickly.
The Bonnet Carre Spillway was opened to control flooding along the Mississippi River, forcing trillions of gallons of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound and taking a toll on fisheries, the environment and tourism.
U.S. Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., along with Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., commended U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for approving a federal fishery disaster declaration for Mississippi. The legislators had previously urged Secretary Ross to approve Gov. Phil Bryant’s request for federal assistance in June.
Wicker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, made the announcement at Wednesday’s full committee hearing on the federal fishery disaster declaration and relief process.
“I supported Governor Bryant’s request for a fishery disaster declaration, and I have been working with NOAA to make sure Mississippi gets the relief it needs,” Wicker said. “Last night, I received the good news from the Secretary of Commerce that he is officially declaring a fishery disaster for Mississippi. This is a needed development for Mississippi fishing communities affected by recent disasters, but problems remain with the fisheries declaration process. Our fishermen deserve more timely consideration and relief.”
Wicker’s committee is considering reforms to federal law that would provide fishermen with disaster relief more quickly. Wicker outlined several of these proposals in legislation he introduced in July.
Sen. Hyde-Smith is requesting that the $150 million emergency relief bill to help those affected by flooding in the Delta be expanded to include coast fishermen.
Hyde-Smith and Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy introduced legislation together in July to expand that funding for commercial fishing and aquaculture operations along the Gulf Coast.
“Recovering from the damage caused to the Mississippi Sound this year will take time, but we’re fortunate that funding is already in place to implement disaster assistance. The Commerce Department should use those funds to help us overcome the significant economic hardships experienced by Mississippi’s boating, tourism, fisheries, shrimp, and oyster industries,” said Hyde-Smith.
Palazzo, member of the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee on Appropriations, joined Wicker in June to call upon Sec. Ross to support the fishery disaster declaration.
“I am pleased to know that our south Mississippi fishermen will get much needed relief with this fisheries disaster declaration approval,” Palazzo said. “We worked with Secretary Ross and NOAA on this request and will continue working to ensure that we reform the process for future expeditious outcomes. This is an important step forward in restoring a healthy economy and seafood industry in south Mississippi.”
Information regarding the U.S. Department of Commerce fishery disaster process is available here.