PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. (WLOX) - 2019 is a year many fishermen on the Mississippi Gulf Coast would like to forget. Now action is being taken to make sure there won’t be a repeat in 2020 of the problems created by the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway.
“If it’s opened again it would really be the death knell in this industry,” said Ryan Bradley, executive director of Mississippi Coast Fisheries United.
Describing the damages to the fishing industry as catastrophic totaling tens of millions of dollars, Bradley is working with other fishermen to limit future damages. He’s part of a group suing the Army Corps of Engineers and Mississippi River Commission over the Bonnet Carré Spillway being opened for a record 123 days over the last year.
“Until we start litigating again over the openings of the spillway, they’re going to continue opening it just like they’ve been doing,” Bradley said.
Commercial oyster fisherman Christopher Rhodes saw firsthand the impacts of trillions of gallons of fresh water being dumped into the Mississippi Sound.
“A lot of people that didn’t have the recourses to transport the oysters out of state to some of the saltier waters, they lost 100% of their oysters,” Rhodes said.
The goal of the federal lawsuit filed this week is to protect the livelihood of fishermen going forward by bringing the damages to the attention of the Corps of Engineers.
“I think federal law mandates them to do a study on the impacts of their actions, and I don’t think that’s been done,” Bradley said. “We’d like to see them do that study, and if there’s anything they can do to mitigate where they don’t have to open the spillway as much as they have, that’s what we’re going to be looking for from the courts.”
The lawsuit isn’t where Bradley’s efforts stop. He stands united with other fishermen in finding solutions to the problems his industry routinely faces.
“We’re also working with Congress on fishery disaster reforms so we can really change these fisheries disasters are managed,” Bradley said.
In addition to Bradley’s group, the lawsuit was filed by the Boards of Supervisors of Harrison and Hancock counties; the cities of Biloxi, D’Iberville, and Waveland; and the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association.