Miss. Senator Authors Bill to Create Commerce Dept. Program, Akin to USDA Aid to Farmers & Ranchers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the midst of a devastating Gulf of Mexico shrimp and oyster season, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today introduced legislation to create a disaster assistance program for commercial fishing and aquaculture operations.

The Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture Protection Act of 2019 (S.2209) would authorize a viable risk-management tool to help commercial fisheries, farm-raised catfish, and other seafood producers mitigate losses associated with market, weather, and other disaster conditions.

“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,” Hyde-Smith said.

“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.”

U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) is an original cosponsor of the legislation.

“The commercial fishing industry is part of our culture and a vital part of our economy in Louisiana,” said Kennedy. “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.”

An influx of freshwater from months of record rainfall and flooding decimated oyster, shrimp, and crab harvests in the north Gulf Coast this summer.  Bird predation and other hardships continue to threaten farm-raised fishing operations.

Hyde-Smith’s legislation would establish a permanent revenue-based disaster program to either replace or serve as an alternative to the “ad hoc” 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.

A one-page summary of the bill is available here, and a copy of the legislation is available here.