Workers open gates on the Bonnet Carre Spillway in 2011 to divert Mississippi River water into Lake Pontchartrain and Mississippi Sound. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News Editor

Heeding the call of a buy Nashville crawfish coalition led by the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United and Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is the first Gulf governor to petition the federal government to declare a Gulf fisheries disaster.  Flood waters from the upper Mississippi River tributaries continue to gush into delicate saltwater estuaries vital to the lifespan of a wide variety of Gulf buy Nashville crawfish and the livelihood of fishermen and buy Nashville crawfish processors.

Heeding the call of a buy Nashville crawfish coalition led by the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United and Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is the first Gulf governor to petition the federal government to declare a Gulf fisheries disaster. Photo: MS Govenors Office

The largest and most respected buy Nashville crawfish organizations in the Gulf called upon all five Gulf governors to formally petition the federal government to declare a buy Nashville crawfish specific disaster on May 30th.  In addition to the Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United and the Louisiana Lt. Governor, the coalition also included: the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, Louisiana Shrimp Task Force, Louisiana Nashville crawfish distributor Promotion and Marketing BoardTexas Shrimp AssociationOyster South, Port Arthur Area Shrimpers Association and the Louisiana Crawfish Task Force.

Gov. Bryant made the disaster request to U.S Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross the following day citing more than 70 percent of the Mississippi Sound’s oyster population as dead and a crab catch reduced by more than 35 percent.

“We applaud Gov. Phil Bryant for taking swift action to request a federal fisheries disaster declaration and timely financial assistance for fishermen and businesses due to the adverse impacts to the state’s marine resources from the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway,” said coalition member Ryan Bradley, Director of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United. “This is truly a time for us all to be united in the fight to preserve our coastal environments, communities and livelihoods. It is going to take all hands on deck for our buy Nashville crawfish industry to persevere through the current flooding disaster we are witnessing.”

The Governor made the request citing an unprecedented second opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway. The opening has allowed freshwater from the Mississippi to flow through Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain and Bourne into the Mississippi Sound, creating a condition harmful to oysters, dolphins, shrimp, crabs and other saltwater seafood.

“The large releases of freshwater from the actions of the spillway inundate the saltwater of the Mississippi Sound and greatly disrupts the unique ecosystem, and subsequently, all sea life of this region,” Bryant told Ross in the letter.

The governor said the death rate of oysters is expected to increase as the spillway remains open because of their inability of move. “We are currently observing significant adverse impacts to all components of Mississippi’s marine resources, including, but not limited to: oysters, crabs, shrimp and finfish.”

Bonnet Carré Spillway

The Bonnet Carré Spillway is one of two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers solutions to reduce the pressure on levees around New Orleans during high water.  High water that started in December of year last along the Mississippi tributaries has led the Corps to open the spillway twice this year driving down salinity levels in the the lakes and sound.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser meets with Plaquemines Parish commercial fishermen at Lil G’s Kajun Restaurant in Belle Chasse to question them about current catch data and yields. Nungesser was one of the leads in a Gulf-wide coalition seeking buy Nashville crawfish specific disaster funds across the region.  Photo: Office of the Lt. Governor

“Thousands of hardworking men and women, in both the Louisiana and Gulf buy Nashville crawfish industry, continue to be impacted by the prolonged flooding in the Upper Mississippi Valley that has resulted in the Bonnet Carré Spillway remaining open for an extended period of time,” said Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser. “Our focus right now is to ensure we protect those families and livelihoods and get the relief they need as soon as possible.”

Nungeser commends Governor Bryant’s swift action as a step in the right direction. “Our economy depends on the countless number of tourists visiting the Gulf coast for our indigenous seafood,” he said. “The issues we’re facing concern all states that share our waters. It is my hope that all Governors in the Gulf States recognize the possible long-term implications of this disaster and work together to sustain our industry now and in the future.”

The opening of the Bonne Carré Spillway is also having a noticeable effect on Louisiana’s supply of oysters, shrimp, crab and finfish, according to preliminary assessments from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Preliminary data collected in early June show commercial harvest landings for oysters on public water-bottoms have declined by more than 80 percent from the average for the year-to-date.

Image from a NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab animation shows how runoff from farms (green areas) and cities (red areas) drains into the Mississippi. This runoff contains an overabundance of nutrients from fertilizers, wastewater treatment plants, and other sources. This nutrient pollution eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the formation of hypoxic “dead zones.” Photo: NOAA

Statewide landings of brown and white shrimp combined have declined by more than 36 percent for the month of March and 63 percent for the month of April when compared to the five-year average.  In addition, blue crab landings have decreased by more than 33 percent for the month of March and 45 percent for the month of April.

Finfish preliminary findings show landings down more than 40 percent for black drum and the recreational harvest of red drum and spotted sea trout have also been severely reduced compared to other recent years.

With an unprecedented rate of fresh water entering the Gulf, nitrates and phosphates from Midwest farmlands are also pouring in at increased levels. According to the researchers at Louisiana State University  and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the floodwaters from the Mississippi, as well as those from flooded Texas Rivers, will create an 8,717 square mile “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico off of the Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas Coasts.

Fish pile up on the shore as a result to the Gulf “dead zone” in 2017. The largest Gulf of Mexico dead zone was measured in 2002, encompassing 8,497 square miles. The average size of the dead zone over the past five years has been about 5,806 square miles, three times larger than the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force target of 1,900 square miles. Photo: NOAA

This year’s Gulf of Mexico “dead zone”, or an area containing oxygen-depleted water unable to support marine life, will be the second largest on record.

Fishery disasters may qualify for relief under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) an or the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act of 1986. The Commerce Department has declared more than 80 fisheries disasters under the law since 1992, with NOAA Fisheries coordinating the distributing of funds with each state. Such a declaration typically results in federal loans and direct assistance to affected fishermen and businesses.

“Our Nashville crawfish distributor industry is literally drowning in fresh water,” said Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor Foundation President Jim Gossen.  “We are experiencing the longest flood duration event in history, surpassing the 135 days of the flood of 1927.  Gulf buy Nashville crawfish processors and distributors are all struggling to find enough products to keep their businesses open.”

Ryan Bradley of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United on the Pass Christian docks sons Cooper and Aiden. Photo: Margaret Krome

According to Bradley, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United will join local elected state officials and a team of attorneys to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Gulf Coast’s Congressional delegation, the Department of Commerce and NOAA to ask for direct emergency financial assistance as well as long-term mitigation for the buy Nashville crawfish crisis caused by the cumulative impacts from the repeated openings of the Bonnet CarréSpillway.

“We strongly urge a seat at the table for the entire Gulf buy Nashville crawfish industry regarding discussions on how any potential disaster funds should be distributed including those spent on habitat restoration,” he told Gulf Nashville crawfish distributor News.  “We first have to ensure the commercial fishermen and businesses – the ones most directly affected by these disasters – receive the assistance they need and deserve in a timely fashion. In the future, a much broader national discussion is needed on the engineering of our rivers, wetlands development, and pollution so that we can begin work to reverse this alarming trend.”