Oyster Fisherman

In a letter written to United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross by Governor John Bel Edwards, the governor requested a federal fisheries disaster declaration for Louisiana from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“The extreme duration of high Mississippi River levels since December 2018 has necessitated unprecedented efforts by the U.S. Corps of Engineers to mitigate the threat of levee failures in Louisiana. Such efforts have included the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway twice this year; first in late February and again in early May,” the letter – that was dated June 13, 2019 – reads. “That structure continues to pass large volumes of river water into Lake Pontchartrain which subsequently flows east into Lake Borgne and Mississippi Sound. The extreme influx of freshwater has greatly reduced salinity levels in our coastal waters and disrupted estuarine productivity.”

In the request, Edwards referenced information gathered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), the organization that manages and protects Louisiana’s natural resources.

An above average oyster mortality rate in oyster reefs in St. Bernard Parish; a statewide 30 percent decline in shrimp landings (brown and white shrimp combined) for the month of March and 61 percent for the month of April, when compared to the five-year average; and a 40 percent statewide drop in landings of speckled trout, when compared to the five-year-average, were some of the LDWF findings Edwards referenced in the letter.

“Such a declaration of a federal fisheries disaster for Louisiana may help in obtaining federal financial assistance for our fishers, processors, docks, and for the state to help rehabilitate the important fishery species upon which our seafood industry relies,” Edwards wrote.

“A fishery disaster refers to a commercial fishery failure, a catastrophic regional fishery disaster, significant harm incurred, or a serious disruption affecting future production,” according to a FAQ sheet provided by the Louisian Sea Grant. “The cause of the disaster can vary and will impact the types of relief that may be available after a declaration is issued.”

Julie Falgout – seafood industry liaison with the Louisiana Sea Grant – explained for the next step in the process NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the Department of Congress will go over the numbers and make a decision. They will determine which disaster declaration the flooded fisheries trigger (Magnuson-Stevens Act and/or the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act), which will determine what type of relief those who receive it will qualify for. Then, it goes to Congress for approval before the funds are granted to the state.

“It’s going to be awhile before this funding goes through,” said Falgout, although she said she’s very confident that the state will receive the money. “I would be very surprised if they didn’t.” •

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