Rep. Palazzo: Federal fisheries disaster declaration could come by next week

Rep. Steven Palazzo talks about federal efforts with the Bonnet Carre Spillway impact

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WLOX) - Mississippi Congressman Steven Palazzo said approval could be coming soon on a federal fisheries disaster declaration for Mississippi. In fact, it could happen as soon as next week.

On May 31, Gov. Phil Bryant made the request in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross saying such a declaration could help all those negatively impacted by the freshwater intrusion, including fishermen and related businesses, obtain financial assistance.

Palazzo believes minimizing the current damage from the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway is the first step to dealing with the crisis in the Sound, and the best way to do that is through the disaster declaration.

“South Louisiana is hurting. South Mississippi, which is what I care about the most, is devastated. We’re closing beaches, and we’re in the peak summer season. Our livelihood depends on a healthy Gulf of Mexico,” Palazzo said. “Hopefully get that approved in the next week or so, so we can begin to look at how we’re going to restore our ecosystem and how we’re going to help our fishermen and others who have been economically damaged by the actions of the federal government.”

FULL INTERVIEW: Rep. Steven Palazzo talks about federal efforts with the Bonnet Carre Spillway impact

The entire Mississippi Congressional delegation is working to get the declaration approved. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said the money is there. Earlier this month, Congress passed and the president signed an emergency disaster relief package that included $150 million to mitigate the effects of commercial fishery failures and fishery resource disasters declared by the Secretary of Commerce.

Hyde-Smith recently wrote a letter to Secretary Wilbur Ross encouraging him to take swift action to approve the fishery disaster declaration.

“Months of record rainfall, spring runoff, and disastrous flooding throughout the Mississippi River Basin has resulted in excess nutrient loading to the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecasted the hypoxic zone in the Gulf to reach record size this summer,” Hyde-Smith said. “The negative effects on all segments of Mississippi’s fishing and seafood industries are becoming more evident each day.

“Given the mounting challenges on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, existing authorities under current law, and available funding, I urge your department to take swift action to provide fishery disaster relief, as requested by Governor Bryant,” she said.

FULL INTERVIEW: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith says money is available for a fisheries disaster declaration

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant submitted a request for a fishery disaster determination under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Section 315 of that law authorizes the Commerce Secretary to establish a regional economic transition program to provide disaster relief assistance to fishermen, charter fishing operations, U.S. processors, and owners of fishery-related infrastructure affected by a catastrophic regional fishery disaster, subject to the availability of appropriations.

Federal agencies and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources continue to monitor the harmful effects of record-level nutrient runoff on oyster reefs, shrimp, crabs and finfish populations in the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

The text of Hyde-Smith’s letter is available below and here.

June 26, 2019

Dear Secretary Ross:

The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act (Public Law 116-20), enacted on June 6, 2019, provides $150 million to the Department of Commerce for fishery disaster assistance. As you evaluate requests for fishery disaster relief and oversee the distribution of these funds, I respectfully request that you give careful consideration to the challenges facing the fishing and seafood communities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Months of record rainfall, spring runoff, and disastrous flooding throughout the Mississippi River Basin has resulted in excess nutrient loading to the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecasted the hypoxic zone in the Gulf to reach record size this summer. The negative effects on all segments of Mississippi’s fishing and seafood industries are becoming more evident each day. On May 31, 2019, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant submitted a request to you for a fishery disaster determination under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Subject to the availability of appropriations, section 315 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (16 U.S.C. 1864) provides you the authority to establish a regional economic transition program to provide immediate disaster relief assistance to commercial and recreational fishermen, charter fishing operations, domestic seafood processors, and owners of related fishery infrastructure affected by a catastrophic regional fishery disaster. Given the mounting challenges on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, existing authorities under current law, and available funding, I urge your department to take swift action to provide fishery disaster relief, as requested by Governor Bryant.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to continuing to work with you to help the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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