Senator Wicker Statement on the $2.9 Million Awarded to Mississippi Fisheries for 2019 Bonnet Carré Spillway Openings

Mississippi’s Shrimp and Oyster Industries are Still Recovering from Bonnet Carré Spillway Openings

February 5, 2024

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., released the following statement after the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) awarded $2,993,283 in federal disaster relief funds to Mississippi’s shrimp and oyster fisheries. The funding is available because DOC declared a “commercial fishery failure” in 2020 after the repeated openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway in 2019.

The state will distribute the funds to fishermen, aquaculture businesses, and seafood processors to help cover some of their losses.

“This funding is helpful, but it does not make the impacted businesses whole. It should not take years for disaster funds to trickle in. I will keep working to reform the fisheries disaster declaration process so the funds can be delivered to communities in a shorter timeframe. I am committed to helping Mississippi recover no matter how long it takes,” Senator Wicker said.

Background and some of Senator Wicker’s related efforts:

Helping communities recover from the Bonnet Carré Spillway openings has been a long-term priority for Senator Wicker.

In 2019, Mississippi River levels were predicted to rise to minor flood stage in New Orleans. The Bonnet Carré Spillway was opened on February 27 and again on May 10, for a total of 123 days. The Spillway had never been opened twice in one year and never for such a long period of time.

Polluted water from the Spillway likely killed more than 90 percent of oysters on Mississippi harvest reefs. Shrimp landings were reduced by 50 percent.

Senator Wicker sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross supporting Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s request for a federal fisheries disaster declaration in 2019. Senator Wicker proceeded to work with state and federal officials to secure more than $21 million from the DOC to cover losses. In November 2021, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves sent a further request to implement a disaster declaration for calendar year 2020.

After the events of the Bonnet Carré Spillway openings, Senator Wicker has worked in Congress to streamline the fisheries disaster declaration process. Senator Wicker introduced the Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations (Fishery FUNDD) Act.

As a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Wicker also championed a provision in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Management Study to identify changes and new features that could help reduce the risk of flooding and decrease reliance on the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

In 2021, Senator Wicker introduced the Flood Level Observation, Operations, and Decision Support (FLOODS) Act to establish a National Integrated Flood Information System. This was signed into law last Congress. This system’s purpose is to coordinate and integrate flood research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, improving flood watches and warnings for coordinated management.