If there was a particularly bad time for Louisiana to stop testing waterways for toxic fish, it would be now.
Fishing is booming amid the coronavirus pandemic, with stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines inspiring Louisianans to take up rods and reels in numbers not seen in nearly a decade.
“People are off work and getting a little stir crazy, so we’ve had quite a surge in fishing licenses,” said Bryan McClinton, manager of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries licensing program. Between March and June, license sales were about 50% higher than the same period last year.
But the state Department of Environmental Quality’s fish-testing program, which helps advise all those freshly licensed anglers where fish are safe to catch and eat, will soon run out of money. The program no longer gets direct financial support from the state and has had to rely on a one-time allotment of funding from a legal settlement to limp along at diminished capacity over the past four years.
“It’ll still go on a little while, but the money is running out,” said Al Hindrichs, manager of the testing program. “We have a couple months at least.”
Officials say the program is vital for protecting human health but the state’s new $35 billion budget has no money to keep it afloat, and no future funding sources, which could include state tax dollars, grants or donations, have been identified by DEQ…