State receives $21 million to mitigate impact of 2019 Bonnet Carré opening

Mississippi will receive over $21 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce following the prolonged opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway in 2019. 

The opening of the spillway led to the introduction of large amounts of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound, which had devastating effects on the Gulf Coast’s fishing and tourism industries. The $21.3 million award, announced by Senator Roger Wicker and Congressman Steven Palazzo, will be distributed by the state to cover losses by fishermen, aquaculture businesses, and seafood processors.

“These funds are welcome news for the many fishermen who suffered through last year’s unprecedented opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway, but our state deserves a long-term solution to disasters like these. I am working to reform the disaster relief process so that funds can be distributed quickly and directly to the people who need them most. I am also pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider alternatives to opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway so that we can minimize the risk of these disasters in the future,” said Wicker, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“These funds will begin supporting the ongoing recovery efforts from the devastation caused by the extended opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway last year. While we appreciate this assistance in our recovery, we must reform the way federal fisheries disasters are evaluated and approved,” said Palazzo, who is a member of the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee on Appropriations. “As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I remain committed to allocating resources that will help restore our way of life in South Mississippi.”

In June 2019, then-Governor Phil Bryant requested a ‘Federal Disaster Declaration’ related to the spillway’s impact on the Coast and it was approved in September. 

The funds are being made available through an allocation of $150 million set aside last year in an emergency relief bill for the Department of Commerce to mitigate designated fishery disasters.

Wicker and Palazzo each introduced legislation to reform the federal fishery disaster process this Congress.

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith applauded the awarding of the funds as well. 

“The Mississippi Gulf Coast, buffeted by environmental, economic, and now COVID-19 calamities, needs these anticipated funds to help shore up fishermen, charter fishing operations, processors, and fishery-related infrastructure,” Hyde-Smith said.  “I am committed to working for additional appropriations should the region again face catastrophic conditions this year.”

Last July, Hyde-Smith introduced the Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture Protection Act of 2019 (S.2209), which 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.