Lawmakers Eye Programs For Commercial Fisheries, Disaster Resilience

Jul 24, 2019

Two disaster-related bills proposed this week in Congress could offer relief for Louisiana communities affected by extreme weather. One would create a permanent safety net program for commercial fishers who have suffered losses due to environmental damage. Another would create a special fund meant to help cities and towns build more resiliently.

Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture Protection Act of 2019

Environmental disasters can cause commercial fishers to lose money. This year, for example, Mississippi River flooding has dramatically reduced the catch of several kinds of seafood in both Mississippi and Louisiana.

The Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture Protection Act of 2019, S. 2209, would create a permanent safety net program that would pay commercial fishers for their losses if those losses were caused by environmental conditions.

The bill lists algae blooms, freshwater intrusion, disease, and adverse weather among a list of possible examples of eligible loss conditions. It would apply to both wild-caught and farm-raised fish -- shellfish, finfish, and “any other species of aquatic organism harvested with the intent of entering commerce.”

The bill was filed on July 23rd by US Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and is co-sponsored by Senator John Kennedy (R-LA). Both Hyde-Smith and Kennedy cited this year’s Mississippi River flooding as evidence of the need for such a program.

“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 press release. “We need to give our fishing industry a break. This legislation will establish a program to help fishermen cope with disaster conditions like these.”

In a statement, noted that farmers and ranchers have access to well-established USDA programs designed to help them survive years with serious losses.

“Commercial fishermen, including aquaculture operations, do not have that option,” Clyde-Smith said.

In order to be eligible, commercial fishers would have to prove that they have made less that 85 percent of their average gross revenue of the previous three years.

Resilience Revolving Loan Fund Act of 2019

To date, 2019 has been one of the wettest years on record. As climate change fuels extreme weather events, local communities are faced with escalating costs of rebuilding after disaster strikes.

The Resilience Revolving Loan Fund Act of 2019, H.R. 3779, would create a new pot of money aimed at building projects that help local governments avoid or minimize disaster damage.

Congresswoman Angie Craig (D-MN) filed the bill on July 16th.

“This is going to give our cities and our towns and our townships one more tool in the toolbox,” Craig said in a press conference promoting the bill.

The idea is that cities and towns could apply for loans to build projects like marshes that absorb water, which could reduce the amount of damage caused by floodwaters. The program would be managed by FEMA, and would be repaid, with interest, back into the loan fund.

The goal is to start the program with $100 million, but before it can be funded it must first pass through both chambers of Congress and be signed into law.

The idea for a Resilience Revolving Loan Fund has been pushed in recent years by the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), a coalition of mayors along the Mississippi River.

MRCTI Executive Director Colin Wellenkamp says pre-disaster mitigation programs already exist at the federal level, but that they’re often narrowly focused on certain types of disasters. He says the new loan fund would be broader in scope, and more nimble.

“Disasters are coming in different forms,” Wellenkamp said. “They are very persistent. They are worsening every time they hit us. We need the flexibility to respond on the ground.”

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