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St. Bernard officials call for federal aid as seafood industry suffers

"We’re not talking about a disaster that’s just happening today. Our fishermen are going to feel these effects for many years to come"

St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis is calling on the federal government to provide immediate disaster aid to help the struggling seafood industry.

Fresh water pouring in from the Bonnet Carre Spillway had a devastating effect on the seafood industry in St. Bernard, the region's largest economic engine.

Fresh water from the Mississippi River has driven crabs, shrimp and fish out of bays and marshes and into saltier water where they can survive. At the same time, oysters are dying in the fresh water, stuck where they are.

RELATED: Louisiana governor: Upriver floods a disaster for fisheries

The nutrients coming from the river water are also nourishing intense algae blooms. Along with the health problems they could cause beach goers and tourists, the slimy green substance consumes oxygen, creating dead zones in the water.

RELATED: Harmful algae bloom closes 9 Mississippi beaches

McInnis specifically called for a companion bill to be added to the $16 billion aid package approved by the Trump Administration to help farmers hurt by recent tariffs.

“Our seafood harvesters should be treated with the same passion and concern as farmers,” McInnis said. “There needs to be a companion bill signed into law to help gulf seafood harvesters and related business survive the draining of the Mississippi into our gulf.”

When asked how much the parish needs to recover, McInnis said it’s hard to put a number to it.

“Right now, there’s already an authorization of $150 million,” he responded. “I think we’ll need more than that ... We’re not talking about a disaster that’s just happening today. Our fishermen are going to feel these effects for many years to come … To give you a number today? We need it all.”

RELATED: Army Corps could begin Bonnet Carré Spillway closure in 2-3 weeks

McInnis noted this isn’t a “once in a decade” issue anymore. The Bonnet Carre Spillway has been opened for nearly 100 days this year. It was opened twice in one year for the first time in history and it’s openings are now an annual occurrence.

“We can’t continue to consider 1920s engineering to be good enough,” McInnis said. “It’s time for Congress and the President to reexamine these policies …. and prevent regular catastrophic fresh water releases.”

RELATED: Near-record 'dead zone' predicted in Gulf of Mexico

A delegation from St. Bernard Parish will leave for Washington DC next week, where they expect to meet with congressional leaders, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and President Donald Trump himself.

“We expect to get a meeting with president trump. This is no different than the bill he just passed to help farmers. This is just as important to our nation.”

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