by Hunter Dawkins

The showdown happened later than expected, as a few hours slipped by from the Mississippi Commission of Marine Resources (CMR) settling their monthly agenda.  However, the final adoption of setting a one-mile commercial finfish net exclusion zone around Cat Island was denied by a 2-2 vote.  Normally the CMR has 5 votes, but the term for commissioner Jolyene Trapani of Bay St. Louis expired in June, leaving the commission with four votes and no tie break.

Commissioner Richard Gollott questioned the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) on changing the language of the regulation for the last few months, wondering who gave the authority to take this action and expressing the procedure was wrong to change the original motion.

Likewise, Chairman Steve Bosarge asked the commission for the science to which Commissioner Mark Havard presented evidence.  The chair responded that this material should have been presented at previous meetings and Bosarge inquired to the Office of Marine Fisheries about the need or purpose of this regulation.  “The whole issue is coming from the top down,” said Bosarge.  “You needed to bring it from the bottom up.”

Before the comments from the CMR, DMR’s Office of Marine Fisheries Director Joe Jewell presented the summaries of the supporters and the opponents that was requested by Bosarge to read the opposing petition.

In the Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United opposition; which was the main petition from 251 commercial fisherman, Executive Director Ryan Bradley read a statement saying, “We currently do not believe that banning all commercial nets from Cat Island is warranted. It is in the best interest of the State of Mississippi to ensure that our fisheries management decisions are base on the best available science and not simply opinion or conjecture.”

Additionally, Bradley requested the scientific evidence, an Economic Impact Study (EIS) and offered scientific data that was gathered to convince the commission to not vote for this ban.

Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) of Mississippi chairman F.J. Eicke countered the MSFCU’s claim declaring that “Cat Island is a sensitive area with essential habitat characteristics that demand protection.”  Further Eicke said, “Many of our members have expressed concern that placement of nets close to the shorelines of Cat Island will endanger the submerged aquatic vegetation that is so prevalent near the shorelines.”

The vote was cast on a roll call with Mark Havard and Pass Christian Commissioner Ronnie Daniels voting for the ban while Gollott and Bosarge were against the ban.

Discussing the monthly materials for the Office of Marine Patrol, Chief Keith Davis let the commission know about crab citations, stiffer penalties requested to the Legislature and an ongoing investigation involving four restaurants that bought recreational fish.

Bradley then issued a public comment requesting more law enforcement activity, claiming that the commercial fishermen deserve stronger protection.  In a quick response, Chief Davis said of his resent of these allegations.

Finally, CMR adopted the rules and regulations for coastal wetlands protection law from the Office of Coastal Resources Management with a chance to change language from the Secretary of State’s office.

Updating the Spotted Seatrout Endorsement, Bosarge questioned the potential precedent that may be set if the language was not clear whereas Commissioner Daniels said “there are a lot of valid points, which can go both ways.”  DMR Official Matt Hill said this arrangement  could be a continued discussion until February, which the Commission approved the update 3-1.

Fiscal Year 2019 monthly report given on the DMR’s Finances showed a revenue of $3.2 million with 95.1% of the State Budget and 91% of the Tideland funds remaining.  The October 16th meeting will be held in Jackson County at 10am.