Sun Herald, Biloxi

New bill would pay Coast fisherman for losses after Bonnet Carré opening, algae bloom

By Justin Mitchell

A bill proposed by Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith would help seafood workers on the Coast after a devastating season because of the opening of Bonnet Carré Spillway and invasion of algae bloom in the Mississippi Sound.

Hyde-Smith plans on introducing the Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture Protection Act of 2019, a bill that would establish a revenue-based disaster program to “either replace or serve as an alternative to the fishery disaster relief provided by the Department of Commerce.” The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Sen. John Kennedy.

Here’s who would be eligible for financial help if the bill is passed:

  • People who suffered losses due to algae bloom, freshwater intrusion, habitat destruction, and related factors that threaten the viability of the commercial fishing industry.
  • People who suffered losses due to disease and bird predation.
  • Commercial fisherman and aquaculture producers who suffer losses associated with an adverse market, weather or other disaster-related conditions.
  • Unique instances that make it difficult for fisherman to find an appropriate fit under traditional farm and livestock support programs, which are typically based on yield or quantifiable mortality losses.

“The disastrous low salinity conditions in the Gulf this year show us that it is time to do more for this important economic sector,” Hyde-Smith said in a press release. “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.”

Seafood workers on the Coast have told the Sun Herald that this has been the worst shrimp season they’ve seen in more than four decades. Oyster beds have been depleted, as the species cannot live in the Mississippi South with the intrusion of fresh water from the opening of the spillway.

The bill says the Secretary of Commerce would provide support payments if actual total gross revenue for a given year falls below 85% of the average total gross revenue for the three previous years.

If the bill were to pass, workers who qualify would receive a payout of 85 percent of the average total gross revenue for three previous years, minus actual total gross revenue during the loss year.

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors have informed Hyde-Smith about the fisherman who have been affected on the Coast by the “disastrous” opening of the Bonnet Carré, District 5 Supervisor Connie Rockco said Tuesday.

“This bill will provide some much needed relief to our fisherman,” Rockco said.

The bill could be referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, said Chris Gallegos, communications director for Hyde-Smith.