Harrison County

Fisheries disaster declared in Gulf states over Bonnet Carré opening, river flooding

The U.S. Department of Commerce has declared a federal fisheries disaster for Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana over freshwater flooding in the Gulf of Mexico from the prolonged opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

The spillway opening to relieve flooding on the Mississippi River is being blamed for high mortality rates of oysters, dolphins, sea turtles and other aquatic life.

A fisheries disaster declaration also followed the Bonnet Carre’s opening in 2011, freeing up federal funds for replanting oyster beds that have now died again.

Congress has this year appropriated $165 million for fisheries disasters, money that also will cover declarations for fisheries disasters that occurred between 2017 and 2019 in Alaska, California, Georgia and South Carolina.

Fisheries in these states will be eligible for disaster assistance through the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The Commerce Department is working on how the funding will be allocated for fisheries in each state, according to it news release.

“Fishing is the cornerstone of countless coastal economies and has been a way of life for generations of Americans,” Commerce Wilbur Ross said in the news release. “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.”

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who has been working to secure disaster relief, said in a separate news release: “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.”

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Anita Lee is a Mississippi native who specializes in investigative, court and government reporting. She has covered South Mississippi’s biggest stories in her decades at the Sun Herald, including the Dixie Mafia, public corruption and Hurricane Katrina, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort. Nothing upsets her more than government secrecy and seeing people suffer.
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