by Hunter Dawkins

After a push to complete the budget and close the session, state legislative funding for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) was left empty for the upcoming fiscal year.  Fortunately for the state agency, there were federal operating funds that were delivered by Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves to help direct temporary shortfall.

The current problem between the State Legislature and Governor Reeves is the control of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) funds that was created in 2006 under a revenue-sharing model for oil and gas producing gulf states.  These federal appropriations are given to the Gulf States for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a revenue-sharing model for oil and gas.

Back in April 2020, Governor Reeves declared that $51 million in GOMESA funds were sent to Mississippi.

Since the inception of GOMESA, MDMR accepted proposals for projects who may receive the funds. The Office of the Governor then coordinates with DMR to vet the projects and restricted the money for the three Coastal Counties (Harrison, Hancock, Jackson), which the Legislature did not ask for a listing of these projects. 

Officials have rumored that former Governor Bryant overspent on the last round of the GOMESA funds before he left office, which caused current Governor Reeves to shut off these federal appropriations before this current situation.  Due to this alleged scenario, the State Legislature may have acted as an oversight by turning the Commissioners of Marine Resources to an advisory panel instead of being in charge of regulatory measures for the agency through a recent bill signed into law by Governor Reeves.

The Mississippi House of Representatives leadership overwhelmingly wants this process changed. According to state legislative officials, GOMESA projects listed in the MDMR Appropriations Bill, instituting a procedure by which the Governor and the agency must submit a list of projects to the legislature for recommendation.

MDMR remains the only state agency without a legislatively appropriated operating budget for the FY 2021 year that started July 1.  Therefore, many MDMR employees are left in limbo about their work, livelihood, safety of fishermen, and the environment as the agency is not operating for much longer until the legislators finalize the budget.

Additionally, due to the offices of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources being closed, the agency has extended the expiration date for commercial and charter licenses to July 15, 2020 and the state recreational fishing season for Red Snapper closed in Mississippi territorial waters Sunday, July 5, 2020. During this closure, no Red Snapper shall be landed or possessed in Mississippi territorial waters.