Lawmakers believe disaster assistance will help oyster, crab industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) say they are optimistic that $10.9 million in disaster assistance awarded to Mississippi will help the state’s commercial oyster and blue crab industries recover from setbacks caused by flooding in 2011.

Cochran, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Wicker, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, supported the January passage of the FY2014 omnibus appropriations bill that provided fisheries disaster funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support recovery from fisheries disasters declared by the Department of Commerce in 2012 and 2013.

“These NOAA resources will help the Mississippi Gulf Coast overcome recent and serious setbacks,” said Cochran, who worked with his Appropriations Committee colleagues to secure support for responding to recent fisheries disasters. “The livelihoods of many who rely on a healthy Gulf have been harmed by recent disasters.  Historic flooding on the lower Mississippi, when combined with 2010 oil spill, undoubtedly shrank oyster and blue crab harvests in the Mississippi Sound.”

The Commerce Department issued a federal fisheries disaster declaration for commercial oyster and blue crab fisheries in Mississippi in September 2012. The fisheries were harmed when extraordinary levels of freshwater flowed into the Mississippi Sound after the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana was opened by the federal government in May 2011 to relieve historic flooding on the lower Mississippi River.

According to NOAA, Mississippi will determine how to use the funding to “restore the fishery or prevent a similar failure in the future and to assist a fishing community affected by such failure.”

The NOAA funding to alleviate damage to the oyster population could include reef cultivation, clutch planting and water quality improvement programs. Funding to restore the blue crab fishery could be used for habitat restoration projects, derelict trap removal programs and the crab trap Terrapin Excluder Device program.

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