by Hunter Dawkins

Despite the outbreak from the global pandemic of COVID-19 (coronoavirus), the Mississippi Commission of Marine Resources (CMR) was able to conduct their monthly meeting with a virtual screen display.  The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) staff provided an excellent information exhibit with notices and the agenda used in the presentation.

CMR started the day to modify the agenda and add a Petition for Reconsideration of the March 31, 2020 Commission’s decision to increase the state charter-for-hire recreational red snapper quota.

MDMR Executive Director Joe Spraggins discussed how the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have failed to close all sections of the Bonnet Carre Spillway at this point, only shutting down 10 bays so far.  USACE was supposed to begin closure of this flood control operation last week.  The spillway was opened twice in 2019, causing severe complications to the Mississippi Sound, marine life, and the seafood industry.  Spraggins mentioned looking into the situation at the end of April.

The real deliberation came out in the seven items discussed from the MDMR Office of Marine Fisheries.  The first item was a regulatory language change where CMR voted to to modify Title 22 Part 9 of the Mississippi Code removing mandatory requirements for state charter-for-hire guides to submit fishing trip reports.  Then, the commission voted to approve a technical coding error for Charter For-Hire Captain and crew for spotted seatrout limits in the Title 22 Part 7 Chapter 7 code.  Additionally, this would give CMR authority to revisit the rule.

After this, CMR took action to modify the minimum size limit for recreational and commercial cobia to be consistent with recent federal regulatory changes. The size change is from 33″ to 36″ for cobia and MDMR staff gave a presentation on artificial reefs.

Finally, the CMR accepted a Petition for Reconsideration by Michael McDermott on behalf of himself and over 300 recreational fishermen.

Following this action, the commission rescinded a March 31, 2020 action, which would have increased the State Charter For-Hire recreational red snapper quota by nearly 100% and shorten the private recreational red snapper fishing season by several days.

In a turn of events, CMR Commissioner and charter boat representative Ronnie Daniels from Pass Christian proclaimed that due to the recent implementation of Amendment 50 by Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the federal government, the state charter for-hire guides technically do not have a separate quota and therefore can access the entire private recreational red snapper quota for Mississippi.

No further action was taken despite Commissioner Daniels assertion.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the recreational red snapper quota and the state-for-hire vessels did not seek to take away from the recreational quota,” said Commissioner Daniels to The Gazebo Gazette.  “Simply asked to be placed back where they originally intended to be and that is in the recreational sector which is what they are defined as.”

From discussion about the quota, Daniels said, “The expiration of the EFP (Exempted Fishing Permits) placed them there and this was not a decision that was voted on by the commission.  I do believe that it is the correct placement.”

In other actions, CMR certified a state fishing record from Michael McElroy III, of Hattiesburg set a new state record for Yellowfin Tuna with a fish weighing 236 pounds, 9.6 ounces using conventional tackle.  The previous record was held by Robert Landingham with a fish weighing 205 pounds, 12.8 ounces set June 9, 2001.

Assistant Chief Kyle Wilkinson of the Office of Marine Patrol stated a few minor oyster violations and other citation.  Fiscal Officer Leslie Brewer delivered a presentation of the monthly fiscal report showing the MDMR state agency to have $4.4 million in revenue, $21.7 million in agency revenue, $587 thousand in state income, $2.3 million and 20.9% of Tidelands Trust Fund remaining.