by Hunter Dawkins

After deliberation by the state Commissioners of Marine Resources (CMR) committee at their monthly meeting in the Bolton Building about penalty matrix and processing plants, the Office of Marine Fisheries of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) declared the 2019-20 oyster season to be done.  With Director of the Shellfish department at the MDMR; Erik Broussard, giving the presentation to the CMR, he delivered astounding numbers of more than 95% mortality rate for oysters in the western portion of the Mississippi Sound.

The decision to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway twice in a calendar year was dreadful to the seafood industry along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  A reason for this action by the United States Army Corps of Engineers was to release flood waters of the Mississippi River towards Lake Ponchartrain.

Unfortunately, this large amount of freshwater from the river poured into the Mississippi Sound killing numerous species and ruining the seafood industries for oysters and shrimp.  Broussard said the mortality rate was over 95% for oysters and shrimp at all testing stations west of Highway 49.

Veteran commissioner Richard Gollott asked Broussard and Office of Marine Fisheries Director Joe Jewell if there was any possible way an oyster relay would help, if Biloxi or Jackson County reefs began producing.  Both responded that a potential relay was likely, but the agency would need to test more before an attempt.

At the beginning, MDMR Executive Director Joe Spraggins revealed a hire of three new employees with the agency, five new patrol officers, and a flounder project being funded by the Tidelands Grant funds and the GO MESA appropriations.  General Spraggins mentioned next week’s testimony to the United States Senate on the Economic Impact of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

In a few sensitive subjects, the Commission approved tarpon regulations in the state, a workshop for a proposed penalty matrix and an update on marine patrol’s review of shrimp processing plants.  Commission Steve Bosarge demonstrated a dislike for each of these items on the agenda inquiring if there was any scientific evidence to set a regulation and that the commission should use the state Attorney General’s report to set a penalty matrix system.

Office of Marine Patrol Chief Keith Davis disclosed 33 citations, the seizure of 150 fish, and are attempting to start an investigation across the coast for individuals trying to sell recreational fish.  Chief Davis explained of a capture of one large amount of flounder in Pass Christian from someone without a license.

Finally, MDMR’s Chief Financial Officer; Leslie Brewer, delivered an optimistic report by demonstrating the agency figures showed a large revenue over three million while the state agency is in good condition with a large amount of funds of the Tidelands budget remaining.

The state CMR finished the meeting certifying two state fishing records.  Tucker House of Saucier setting the record of a Bonnethead Shark weighing 15 pounds, 2.4 ounces using conventional tackle and Sean Cook of D’Iberville bringing home the state record for a Red Lionfish by weighing 1 pound, 13.44 ounces with a spear.