Gulf Coast fisheries eligible for federal disaster assistance

Gulf Coast fisheries eligible for federal disaster assistance

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On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the U.S. Department of Commerce approved a federal fishery disaster declaration for Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama in response to the huge influx of fresh water from flood events along the Mississippi River earlier in 2019.

The fresh water caused the saline balance in coastal water to be diluted, killing shrimp, oysters and other marine life such as dolphins and sea turtles. It also caused a toxic algae bloom that closed all Mississippi beaches to swimming and wading at the height of beach season, a blow to the state’s tourism industry.

The state’s beaches remain closed.

The disaster determination makes Gulf Coast fisheries eligible for NOAA fisheries disaster assistance. For fiscal year 2019, Congress appropriated $165 million for fishery disasters. Those funds will also be made available for commercial fishery failures that occurred in Alaska, California, Georgia, and South Carolina between 2017 and 2019.

“Fishing is the cornerstone of countless coastal economies and has been a way of life for generations of Americans,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a statement. “This determination acknowledges the critical role fisheries play in our communities, and the risks they face from natural disasters and other causes beyond their control.”

Mississippi’s U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Rep. Steven Palazzo commended Ross for approving the declaration. The legislators had urged the secretary to approve Gov. Phil Bryant’s June request for federal assistance.

“I supported Gov. 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 in a statement, adding, “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.”

Hyde-Smith has worked to secure emergency funding for the Mississippi Gulf fisheries as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“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,” she said in statement. “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.”