Hyde-Smith proposes permanent disaster relief fund for fishing industry

A U.S. senator from Mississippi has proposed legislation that would set up a permanent disaster relief fund for the commercial fishing industry.

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith introduced the bill, S.2209, on Monday, 23 July. The bill calls for amending the Magnuson-Stevens Act to include a “supplemental revenue assistance” program for fishermen and aquaculture producers.

Under the bill, fishermen and aquaculture operators would be eligible when their gross revenue fell below 85 percent of the average from their previous three years. The losses would need to happen as the result of an algae bloom, freshwater intrusion, weather event, disease, or another condition, as approved by the U.S. secretary of commerce.

This year’s algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to create one of the biggest dead zones in the Gulf’s history. It’s being blamed on the amount of flooding happening along the Mississippi River, which feeds into the Gulf.

In a release touting the bill, Hyde-Smith, a Republican, noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a disaster assistance program to help farmers and ranchers continue even when they’ve suffered serious losses. 

Currently, no such system exists for fishermen. Commercial fishing interests now rely on states to apply for disaster relief on an ad hoc basis with those requests approved by the U.S. commerce secretary. According to the requests published on NOAA Fisheries website, there have been 23 such disaster requests dating back to the 2014 fishing seasons.

That does not include the letter Louisiana officials sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross earlier this month asking for a review of the impact the Mississippi River flooding has had on Louisiana’s Gulf fishing industry.

Republican U.S. Senator John Kennedy signed that letter, and he’s also signed on to Hyde-Smith’s bill as a co-sponsor.

“The disastrous low salinity conditions in the Gulf this year show us that it is time to do more for this important economic sector. Fisheries and aquaculture are not just important to Mississippi and other southeastern states, but every region with a coast,” she said. “Our domestic seafood industry starts with the fisherman - the harvester or producer, and without them we would be forced to depend on lower quality foreign imports.”

“The commercial fishing industry is part of our culture and a vital part of our economy in Louisiana,” Kennedy said in a statement. “The shrimp and oyster seasons produced significantly lower yields on average this year due to disastrous freshwater intrusions in the Gulf. We need to give our fishing industry a break. This legislation will establish a program to help fishermen cope with disaster conditions like these.”

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