MS Senator proposes bill helping fishermen affected by spillway opening

MS Senator proposes bill helping fishermen affected by spillway opening

MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith proposes a new bill that could assist fishermen who have suffered losses from the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway.

The Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture Protection Act of 2019 would set up disaster assistance for Coast fishermen who have experienced losses due to the algae bloom, freshwater intrusion, habitat destruction, or related factors that threaten the commercial fishing industry.

“Farmers and ranchers who experience serious losses have access to well-established USDA programs to help them survive down years. Commercial fishermen, including aquaculture operations, do not have that option,” Senator Hyde-Smith said.

Hyde-Smith’s legislation would establish a permanent revenue-based disaster program to either replace or serve as an alternative to the fishery disaster assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The assistance program would apply to all species whether commercially fished or farm raised, including shellfish (oysters, shrimp, crawfish, and crab), finfish (catfish), and “any other species of aquatic organism harvested with the intent of entering commerce.”

With or without a fishery disaster declaration, the bill would require the Secretary of Commerce to provide support payments based on a formula if actual total gross revenue for a given year falls below 85 percent of the average total gross revenue for the three previous years.

The new assistance program would begin with the 2019 calendar year and be subject to the availability of appropriated funding, such as the $150 million provided for fishery disaster assistance in the FY2019 Supplemental Appropriations Act enacted on June 6, 2019.

The proposal was cosponsored by U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-La.).

A one-page summary of the bill can be viewed here. The Army Corps of Engineers began closing the spillway Monday.

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