The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is developing plans on how to best utilize $73 million in federal funding to help the state's fishing industry rebound from the severe financial losses caused by the 2019 freshwater flooding event and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The economic impact to the fishing industry in Louisiana from the 2019 flood disaster was estimated at $338 million, which included $177 million in current losses and $161 million in projected future losses. The full scale of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Louisiana fisheries has not been determined, according to a press release from LDWF.
"We are grateful to the federal government for the $73 million which comes at a time when our fishing community is feeling the deep impact of COVID-19 while still trying to recover from damage caused by flooding," said Gov. John Bel Edwards. "We know that more assistance is needed, and my administration is committed to looking for every opportunity to find those funds to help reinvigorate this vital industry relied upon by many families and businesses that are now hurting."
LDWF is working with Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) to develop spending plans and gather input from members of the fishing industry. After industry input and program development, the plans will be submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for final approval before any funds can be disbursed to the fishing industry.
"This will be done with ideas drawn from people in the industry who were affected," said LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet. "LDWF wants to make sure the distribution treats everyone in the fishing industry as equitably as we can."
The total-approximately $73 million-will be in two recently announced allotments from the federal government to Louisiana once NOAA approves the spending plans.
Of the total, $58.3 million of federal recovery funds will be directed toward the fisheries disaster resulting from 2019 freshwater flooding in Louisiana. The Bonne Carré Spillway was opened an unprecedented two times, diverting river water into the fishing areas affecting oysters, shrimp blue crab and finfish.
Last year's flood event resulted in Gov. Edwards seeking financial assistance through the request of a disaster declaration to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The funding was allocated on Monday.
The purpose of the fisheries disaster funding is to help fisheries resources and fishing industries become more sustainable and resilient to future disasters. The spending plan will be complex and may not be finalized until later this year.
A more immediate relief fund of $14.6 million has been directed to Louisiana as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Its purpose is to assist Louisiana fishermen and other parts of the industry affected by the COVID-19 pandemic through direct aid payments. It is part of a larger national federal funding package to assist all states' fishing industries affected by the pandemic.
LDWF Assistant Secretary Patrick Banks said he hopes the spending plan will be approved by NOAA and in play by late July. His staff is working with LSG to develop criteria for the delivery of the CARES funds.
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