Senator Wicker introduces fishery disasters bill

As Mississippi awaits an answer to a federal fisheries disaster request, Senator Roger Wicker has introduced a bill to help speed up the process.

Earlier this week, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the “Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations (Fishery FUNDD) Act.”

This legislation would reform the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)’s Fishery Resource Disaster Relief program of the National Marine Fisheries Service, making improvements to provide fishermen with disaster relief more quickly.

“I have met with local officials and seen firsthand how extensive flooding in Mississippi has created an economic and environmental emergency for my state and its coastal fisheries,” said Wicker. “Freshwater has devastated our seafood industry and spurred the growth of Harmful Algal Blooms, which shut down our beaches, hurting tourism. This legislation would expedite the process by which fishermen receive disaster relief. I hope my colleagues will move quickly to pass this bill and help our fishermen.”

In the past, it has been years between the request for a disaster declaration and when communities see any money, and it has been difficult to get that money directly to the people who need it.

Wicker’s Fishery FUNDD Act would streamline the fisheries disaster declaration process by holding the federal government accountable to deadlines to get funding out the door faster. It would also allow for disaster funding to go directly to members of the fishing community. Among other provisions, the bill would:

  • Maintain the authority of the Secretary of Commerce to determine the existence of a fishery disaster after which the Secretary would make funds available to be used by state or regional groups to assess the impacts of the disaster and conduct other activities that support fishing activity;
  • Assign a 120-day timeline for the Secretary to evaluate a request, either upon receipt or immediately after the close of the fishery season; and
  • List the eligible uses of fishery disaster relief funds, including direct payments to affected members of the fishing community, habitat restoration and conservation, management improvements, job training, public information campaigns, and preventative measures for future disasters. It would prioritize hiring fishermen displaced by the fishery disaster for these tasks.

Last month, Chairman Wicker sent a letter with Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in support of Governor Phil Bryant’s request for a federal fisheries disaster declaration.

The introduction of the bill was praised by Governor Bryant and several other prominent leaders in Mississippi.

Governor Phil Bryant: “I appreciate Senator Wicker’s support for the Mississippi Gulf Coast and our hard-working fishermen. These changes will certainly improve the process for Federal Fisheries Disaster Declarations and will provide much-needed assistance in a timely manner to those affected.”

Glenn McCullough, Jr., Executive Director, Mississippi Development Authority: “We at the Mississippi Development Authority salute Chairman Wicker’s leadership to reform NOAA’s Fishery Disaster Relief Program. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is strategically vital to our state’s economy, so it’s important that our federal, state and local partners work together as one team to ensure that the Gulf Coast is a vibrant Mississippi destination for industry and tourism.”

Mayor Billy Hewes, Gulfport: “The farmers in coastal regions are known as fishermen. On the Gulf Coast they have experienced, firsthand, the adverse impacts to the Mississippi Sound resulting from a protracted opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway. The release of huge volumes of river water into our fragile ecosystem has had a devastating effect on fish stocks, oyster reefs, and shrimp and crab harvests. This event has also caused a severe blow to our overall tourism economy. Any act that will eliminate bureaucratic roadblocks by hastening response time for relief to impacted communities is appreciated. Federal fisheries measures should not only take into account actions that keep our seafood industry and workers viable today, but also provide for protection and restoration of marine habitats where seafood is caught, in order to ensure future harvests.”

To read the full bill, click here.