U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, is calling for a permanent taxpayer-supported safety net for the fishing industry.
The Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture Protection Act of 2019, introduced by U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi, does not carry an explicit price tag. Kennedy’s statement in support of the bill compares the proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “well-established” disaster programs for farmers.
“The shrimp and oyster seasons produced significantly lower yields on average this year due to disastrous freshwater intrusions in the Gulf,” Kennedy said in a prepared statement. “We need to give our fishing industry a break. This legislation will establish a program to help fishermen cope with disaster conditions like these.”
USDA reportedly is preparing an open enrollment for a $3 billion aid package for farmers and ranchers. Enrollment is expected to begin by late August or early September.
“Farmers and ranchers who experience serious losses have access to well-established USDA programs to help them survive down years," Hyde-Smith said. "Commercial fishermen, including aquaculture operations, do not have that option."
On July 8, Louisiana’s congressional delegation joined Gov. John Bel Edwards and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser in asking Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for a federal disaster declaration for the state’s fisheries, which would allow Congress to appropriate money for relief. The Mississippi River’s current “92-year flood record,” leading to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ unprecedented decision to open the Bonnet Carré spillway twice in one year, disrupted many types of aquatic life vital to Louisiana’s seafood industry, the delegation’s letter to Ross says.
In June, state government liaisons to the seafood industry said this year’s “disaster” is only the latest reason for uncertainty, also citing freshwater diversions meant to restore the coastline, hurricanes, climate change, and the 2010 BP oil spill.
Under the proposed amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, potential federal relief would be available when revenue associated with commercial fishing or farm-raised fish production for a calendar year is less than 85 percent of the average gross revenue for the previous three years. No fishery disaster declaration would be necessary.
The compensation for a person or entity would be the difference between their revenue for the year and 85 percent of their average revenue for the prior three years, and “shall not exceed 85 percent of the average gross revenue received during the previous calendar years.”
Compensation could apply to eligible losses suffered this year and every year in the future, “subject to available funds.”