The tide started to turn this week for harvesters of oysters and blue crabs, who have been struggling in the Sound since the 2011 Mississippi River flooding.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the state will get $10.9 million for fisheries disaster relief, part of $75 million nationally for six troubled areas.
Record levels of rainfall in 2011 led to some of the most damaging and widespread flooding along the Mississippi River. The Bonnet Carré Spillway was opened for 42 days to alleviate the river's volume.
Oysters and blue crabs were unable to flee the rush of fresh water, unlike more mobile fish and shrimp species. Melissa Scallan with the state Department of Marine Resources said 86 percent of oysters in the western part of the Sound were killed and the blue crab population was down 53 percent from a few years prior.
Scallan said the DMR worked to get a disaster declared for the commercial fisheries, but that did not guarantee any grant money. The recent grant announcement is very encouraging, she said.
"We are very excited about this because, you know, this is what Mississippi is known for, is our seafood, and people love our oysters and crabs," she said. "This is gonna help us repair some of the damage that's been done from the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway."
Coast senators, who voted for the omnibus appropriations bill that allowed the grant, said they are glad to see the industry get assistance.
"These NOAA resources will help the Mississippi Gulf Coast overcome recent and serious setbacks," said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in a statement. "The livelihoods of many who rely on a healthy Gulf have been harmed by recent disasters."
He worked with his Appropriations Committee colleagues to secure support for responding to recent fisheries disasters. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker echoed his support.
"This is a positive step toward restoring the losses of local fishermen and the state's vital fishing industry." Wicker said.
A NOAA statement said it will give "broad latitude to determine the best use of the funds to meet the unique needs of their local businesses and communities." States also will not have to match any of the grants.
Scallan said the money will most likely go toward programs that promote reef cultivation, cultch planting and programs to improve water quality for oysters. Blue crabs could see habitat-restoration projects and derelict-trap removal programs.
She said it is not clear yet if the money will go to the state first or directly to the DMR, but that the DMR is working with NOAA on a plan.