Sen. Wicker goes fishing for information

Sen. Roger Wicker and DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller discuss specifics of the NOAA restoration funds.
Sen. Roger Wicker and DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller discuss specifics of the NOAA restoration funds.

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker went on a fishing expedition Wednesday afternoon, and it wasn't just to catch blue crabs and shrimp. It was to fish for information.

The Department of Marine Resources provided Wicker a short boat trip out into the Mississippi Sound near the eastern tip of Deer Island.

While some tasty crustaceans were landed, his real purpose was to get a sense of how the DMR will handle almost $11 million in federal money to help revive the oyster and blue crab populations.

That's a lot of money, but Wicker says he has confidence in the state and federal efforts.

"My responsibility is to see how the federal money is being spent by this state agency in cooperation with NOAA," Wicker said. "So, from that standpoint, it looks like we've got some pretty good people on board, and they're poised to continue working with NOAA in a way that benefits the tax payer."

The fisheries and commercial interests were harmed in 2011 when high levels of fresh water flowed into the Mississippi Sound after the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana was opened by the federal government to relieve flooding on the lower Mississippi River.

Funding was approved for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support recovery from fisheries disasters declared by the Department of Commerce in 2012.

DMR officials say the blue crab season is already as good as it was the entire year last year, and a great season is expected.

As far as shrimp season, which began June 12, officials say it was the best opening since 2005.

The federal money should be available by Jan. 2015, but even then, any restoration could take up to five years to have any effect.

Oyster restoration could include reef cultivation, clutch planting and water quality improvement programs. Funding to restore the blue crab fishery could be used for habitat restoration projects, derelict trap removal programs and the Terrapin Excluder Device program.

"Our federal partners have confidence in what we are doing," said DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller. "The science here at DRM has always been well regarded."

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