Gulf Coast seafood biz slammed by freshwater from floods

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NEW ORLEANS (AP)—Fresh water from Midwestern floods has killed oysters along the coasts of three states and cost Mississippi half of its blue crabs.

Water that came through a Louisiana spillway killed 95 percent of the oysters in Mississippi’s share of the Mississippi Sound and fed toxic algae blooms that closed the state’s beaches, said Joe Spraggins, executive director of the state Department of Marine Resources. Seafood and tourism businesses, from bait shops and seafood processors to restaurants and hotels, have lost $120 million to $150 million, he said.

The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama asked months ago for U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to declare a fisheries disaster, a designation needed to secure federal grants for those whose livelihoods were affected in the Gulf region’s vital seafood industry. Alabama canceled its oyster season.

It will be months before all the figures are in and the analysis completed to tell which Louisiana fisheries qualify, said Patrick Banks, assistant secretary for fisheries in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Floodwaters from the Midwest and rains elsewhere poured down the Mississippi and into the Atchafalaya River. They wound up in the Gulf of Mexico – both through the rivers and via the huge, normally brackish lake that borders New Orleans, because a major spillway was opened twice for a total of more than four months to protect New Orleans’ levees.

Oysters continue among the worst-hit fisheries, with brown shrimp, crab and finfish catches also down from a year ago, department figures indicate.

Louisiana produced 13.3 million pounds of oysters in 2017- 54 percent of the nation’s harvest, while Mississippi contributed about 2% and Alabama about 1% of the total, according to federal figures. The take from Louisiana’s public reefs has made up less than 10 percent of Louisiana’s total for the last decade or so, Banks said.

State officials said brown shrimp, crab and finfish catches are down significantly in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya river basins. Statewide brown shrimp landings are down 34% in volume and their value is down 44 % during the five-year average. Commercial blue crab landings are down 26%, with drops ranging from 14 to 84% in individual basins, according to state figures.

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