by Hunter Dawkins

As net fishing has been on the minds of the Mississippi Commission of Marine Resources (CMR) for the last three meetings, the topic came up hot this Tuesday at the Bolton Building in Biloxi.  After reciting the pledge of allegiance, the CMR got right into the discussion of a ban for nets when attempting to approve the minutes from the December 7, 2018 regular session.

“We have not had a gear task force meeting yet,” said Commissioner Ronnie Daniels of Pass Christian, who represents the charter boat community.  “The only way to make any changes are through this group, which we created.”

The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Executive Director Joe Spraggins issued his monthly report explaining his attendance to the state legislature recently in Jackson and how potential funding from the state appropriations committees are likely.  Additionally, Spraggins mentioned the hiring of three new employees and the current search for a certified financial officer (CFO) at the agency.

A petition for reconsideration about administrative penalties enforced by the agency was considered by Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, Inc., as the Executive Director Ryan Bradley came forward describing the lack of a “matrix” in the system.  Bradley asked the CMR’s attorney Sandy Chestnut for the options that existed.  Chestnut illustrated on the board that there were four actions the commission could take.  Due to Commissioner Richard Gollott’s absence, the vote was tabled.

Recently appointed Commissioner Natalie Guess of Hancock County; representing the environmental community, asked that a resolution be administered to rename the Jailhouse Key near the Bayou Caddy sound to the Ernie Zimmerman Key.  Zimmerman was a long time member of the CMR from Hancock County.

DMR Marine Patrol Chief Keith Davis gave an overview of the year, along with highlighting accomplishments of the patrol unit.  Following this, Davis spoke of the antilitter campaign being promoted by the  agency, including a discussion on microplastics and the threat to the Mississippi Sound.

Then, Sonja Slater of the Office of Finance and Administration presented the proposal for the Fiscal Year 2020 Tidelands Project Proposal.  Slater said this proposal runs 18 months ahead, even though DMR received $10 million this year.  “Casino revenue goes up, Tidelands checks go out,” according to Slater; in her discussion about the Tidelands grant, which was approved into state law in 2003.  The commission unanimously approved this proposal after evaluating the results.

Finally, the designation of state and federal water guideline per species was presented by the Office of Marine Fisheries.  The CMR unanimously approved a motion for the DMR staff to come back with an assessment of species for consideration in compliance with federal guidelines and to look at the viability for a species-specific state commercial shark fishery.

Before recess, the CMR voted Tuesday that the crab trap closure would be set to take place Feb. 7 through Feb. 16, 2019 for commercial and recreational crab fishermen.  This will be in effect in all Mississippi territorial bays, bayous and territorial waters located one-half mile of the mainland shoreline.

The schedule for the 2019 Derelict Crab Trap Removal Program is as follows:

  • Feb. 7 – 13 – All commercial and recreational crab fishermen must use this time to remove their own traps from all waters within one-half mile from the main shoreline. As a reminder, it is illegal to remove traps licensed to another person outside of the approved trap removal dates. This will be strictly enforced.
  • Feb. 14 – 16 – All traps remaining in the closure area will be considered derelict and will be removed and recycled. Volunteers may remove remaining traps from the closure area during these dates. Derelict traps may be dropped off at Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) designated sites for recycling from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Point Park in Pascagoula, Ocean Springs Harbor and Pleasure Street Boat Launch in Bay St. Louis.
  • Feb. 17 – Beginning at 6 a.m., all active traps may be returned to the closure area and crab fishing may resume.

The Mississippi Derelict Crab Trap Removal Program has removed and recycled over 21,600 traps since its inception in 1999. Volunteers interested in participating in this year’s program can contact the MDMR Shrimp and Crab Bureau at (228) 374-5000 for more information.