Gulf lawmakers press US commerce secretary for disaster relief

Published on
July 26, 2019

The letters keep pouring into U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ office from elected officials representing Gulf Coast states.

On Tuesday, U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi), Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana), Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama), Garret Graves (R-Louisiana), and Clay Higgins (R-Louisiana), each signed a letter supporting the requests submitted by the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi for fishery disaster assistance.

“The livelihoods of many in our coastal communities are dependent on a healthy marine environment, and disruptions to these ecosystems have heavy impacts on both the commercial and recreational fishing industries, including the supply chains they support,” the congressmen wrote.

Record flooding throughout the Mississippi River basin has been recorded through most of the year. For example, earlier this week the river fell below flood stage in St. Louis for the first time in 127 days, breaking a record set 26 years ago. 

As the water flows south, the flooding has created devastating effects on the fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. For the first time, the Army Corps of Engineers has needed to open the Bonnet Carré Spillway, causing millions of gallons of freshwater to spill eventually into the saltwater Gulf of Mexico. 

The flooding led government officials to forecast a “dead zone” for the Gulf this summer substantially larger than the five-year average of 5,770 square miles and encroaching on the record zone of 8,776 square miles established two years ago. On Thursday, NOAA will hold a conference call to provide a final report on the actual size of this year’s zone.

While the focus in Louisiana has mainly been on the shrimp industry, Mississippi fishermen have raised concerns about the safety of locally-grown oysters. On Thursday, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United posted graphics on Twitter showing several oyster beds are at or nearing 100 percent mortality.

“[Mississippi] oyster reefs have experienced severe mortality from freshwater exposure as a result of the operation of the Bonnet Carré Spillway,” the group tweeted. “It is going to take bold approaches to restore our oyster resources.”

This week’s letter from Gulf lawmakers reminded Ross that last month Congress passed USD 150 million (EUR 134.9 million) in fisheries disaster relief funding.

“We urge you (to) consider the catastrophic regional disaster of the central Gulf Coast and this funding's ability to provide initial, timely assistance for our fishermen, processors (and) businesses and to rehabilitate important fishery species upon which are seafood industries rely,” they wrote.

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