November 30, 2020

Governor’s Capitol Hill testimony highlights Mississippi’s ‘blue economy’

Mississippians have inherited, harvested, and benefited from our oceans. That is why our state is a leader when it comes to the Blue Economy – the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.

Our leadership recently took center stage on Capitol Hill. Late last month, Governor Phil Bryant joined the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which I chair, and provided testimony at the committee hearing, “Our Blue Economy: Successes and Opportunities.”

As Governor Bryant said at the hearing, “On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we have embraced the Blue Economy with all our energy and ingenuity.” The best seafood anywhere comes from the Gulf. Recreational and commercial fishermen up and down the coast contribute billions of dollars to our economy and support tens of thousands of jobs. Looking out at our coastal ports, you can see 55 million tons of goods flow in and out annually. Those goods are often transported on ships made in Mississippi and destined for harbors around the world.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” Ocean conservation and development go hand in hand. In Mississippi, we take these lessons to heart.

Building on Past Successes

Congress made significant progress on the Blue Economy when my colleagues and I passed the Modern Fish Act and the Commercial Engagement through Ocean Technology Act, or CENOTE, at the end of 2018. Both of these bills attracted bipartisan, bicameral support and were signed by the President.

Since 1976, our nation’s fisheries had been governed by the Magnuson Stevens Act, which focused on commercial fisheries. Over time, recreational fishing has grown dramatically, and many fisheries are now used by both recreational and commercial fishermen. The Magnuson Stevens Act did not anticipate this change. Saltwater recreational anglers felt like afterthoughts due to outdated regulations, and the 3-day red snapper season proposed in 2017 showed they were often right to feel that way.

The Modern Fish Act brings the law up to date and encourages regional fishery management councils to update their policies, use new technologies modeled on programs like the Mississippi Department of Marine Resource’s “Tails n’ Scales” program, and develop alternative management methods.

Conservation and economic development also require better data collection. Our oceans are woefully under observed. CENOTE encourages the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to improve its data collection efforts through the use of Unmanned Maritime Systems.

These systems collect data that is dangerous or difficult for human crews to obtain, like water temperatures below the surface in advance of hurricanes. Those temperatures are used to predict how quickly a hurricane will intensify, information which can save lives, a fact Mississippians know all too well.

An Ocean of Possibilities

As the hearing with Governor Bryant made clear, continuing our progress on the Blue Economy is one of my top priorities. The Commerce Committee is working to improve our nation’s ocean management, data collection, safety, and infrastructure at our aging ports. I am working with regulators, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, to ensure the laws that we have enacted are faithfully executed and that administrative agencies follow congressional intent.

During the 115th Congress, we passed bills to conserve and develop our ocean resources. The Blue Economy will continue to bring members together in this 116th Congress, providing tangible results for our coastal communities and country.

Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., represents Mississippi in the U.S. Senate.