by Hannah Allen

On Tuesday Morning, the Commission of Marine Resources (CMR) met at the Bolton Building in Biloxi for their July meeting to discuss updates on the Bonnet Carré Spillway and vote on upcoming marine-projects.

The Commission began their meeting with an election for heading position, which occurs every  year in July if there is a quorum of commissioners.

Mark Havard, a member of the commission since 2016 representing the Coast Conservation Association (CCA), was voted in as the new chairman. Ronnie Daniels of Pass Christian, representing the charter fishing community, was elected for the vice-chair position.

Though the Bonnet Carré Spillway was scheduled to close later this week, the closing was delayed as a result of the influx of rain from Hurricane Barry.

The spillway–which prevents the flooding of New Orleans and the Mississippi delta area–has continued to wreak havoc upon both the seafood and the tourism industry in the Coastal Region.

According to research presented by the commission, the oyster mortality rate remains a startling 100 percent, while the shrimp mortality rate is at 75 percent across the Gulf Coast. According to the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) staff on average, coastal shrimpers are able to catch 2 million pounds of shrimp during the month of June. However, during previous month, only 500,000 pounds of shrimp were reported.

Marine-life is not the only aspect of coastal life that is being affected as a result of the spillway.

Since the integration of freshwater with the salty-water gulf, blue-green algae blooms have become abundant along the coast. These algal blooms are green in color and the toxins in the blooms “can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.”

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has been continuously monitoring these blooms for changes and developments. MDEQ has since changed the notice from a ‘beach closure’ to a ‘water contact warning’; although, citizens and their pets are still encouraged to stay out of the water.

At the CMR meeting, it was reported that the effects of the spillway and the algal blooms will likely continue to affect the Gulf Coast in the coming months. In the future, when these blooms decay and sink to the bottom of the water, all the oxygen will be taken with them, causing a fish kill.

Thao Vu, the executive director for the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese-American Fisher Folks, noted that “No one is more dependent on a healthy Mississippi Sound…than the fishing community…And [the effects from the spillway are] not over.” She urged policy makers to look to other states on how to address the disaster by taking “proactive steps” and “minimiz[ing] the impact” of these misfortunes.

Recently as reported during the meeting, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has enacted an intra-agency task force in an attempt to monitor and address the  results of spillway. Unfortunately, at the meeting, it was reported that fisherman were “probably not” going to “get a check [of compensation]” for losses from the spillway. However, the department assures citizens, “The attorney general, and the governor and the lieutenant governor are working hard and they’re not turning their back on us.”

One of the ways that Mississippi is hoping to combat some of the losses on the Gulf Coast is by approving a number of marine projects. One project in particular caused a bit of controversy at the CMR meeting. The project is attempting to assess and address damage to natural resources and involves “construct[ing] a subtotal reef on the north of Deer Island in the MS Sound.” This project would last a total of five years and would eliminate commercial and recreational fishing on the portion of the island where the project was being conducted.

Vu is one of the critics of the proposed project. She later stated, “I think that the public—in particular the fishermen—should have additional time to view what is being proposed…particular after BP [and the] Bonnet Carre Spillway.” Vu explained that in the almost 10 years since BP, the coast has not had any effectively restored reefs. She noted that “[The Gulf Coast need to focus on outcome based restoration, not just merely placing things and expecting it to settle.”

The Mississippi Sound project was introduced to the commission and more information will be produced at the August meeting.