by Hunter Dawkins
Following a lengthy discussion of dialogue between MDMR (Mississippi Department of Marine Resources) agency, the Legislature, and the Governor, the tables have been turned and the CMR (Commission of Marine Resources) will begin its duties as an advisory panel rather than a regulatory board for the agency.
According to the MDMR Executive Director Joe Spraggins, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued an Executive Order in late June, which stated that the Commission would be reappointed if chosen or until the gubernatorial administration could find another candidate that was approved by the State Senate. “House Bill 827 was a different bill that the agency (MDMR) is working off the rules of at this time,” said Spraggins at the monthly video meeting.
House Bill 827 passed the Mississippi House of Representatives on March 10, 120-0 while moving through the Senate after the COVID-19 delay on June 11, 51-0 at the State Capitol in Jackson. Governor Reeves signed the bill into law on June 30. The bill states that it will “reconstitute the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources (CMR) as the Mississippi Advisory Commission on Marine Resources and to prescribe its powers and duties to advise the Executive Director of the Department and in conformity.”
With this action by the Legislature, a lot of confusion about the role of the commission was still in doubt. “Trying to understand this role a little better,” said CMR Chairman Ronnie Daniels from Pass Christian. “Would like to do anything I can to help the state and it will take a little time to develop into this.”
Daniels, who is the representative for the charter-for-hire fisherman, did express the need for the commission to be able to provide their knowledge and expertise of the different sections of the fishing community. “Look, I have full confidence in Joe Spraggins, as the executive director right now. However, if things change we would need to reevaluate and see if we still have a voice of reason.”
In discussion from the executive director report at the meeting, General Spraggins said that MDMR is “100% employed agency, but we’re not able to 100% of our job because of our lack of funds.”
After the Legislature closed in late June and then came back to a few weeks ago, the lawmakers have not finalized any budget for the state agency (MDMR) that continues to run out of money to operate.
“The DMR deserves a budget and the Governor deserves a chance to manage GOMESA funds,” said Ryan Bradley, the executive director of the Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United in regards to reasons of why the agency has not been funded by the agency. “The Governor was overwhelmingly elected by the residents of South Mississippi and the fishing industry has complete faith in the Governor to do not only what is best for the Coast but all of Mississippi.”
- Nearly 40 Tidelands projects that increase public access to our waterways and provide conservation benefits have been halted due stop work order since budget lapse.
- Nearly 175 DMR employees could be furloughed by September 1, 2020 if no budget deal is reached. The last furlough that lasted 5 days caused a lot of stress for these state employees who already do not make a whole lot of money. Missing just one week of work for these employees can lead to a missed mortgage or rent payment or car note payment. It is still unclear whether these employees will receive back pay for these days.
- Nearly $23 million dollars in CARES Act relief ($1.5m) for fishery participants from COVID19 related losses and fishery disaster assistance ($21.1) from the opening of the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway earmarked for commercial, recreational, charter fishermen, bait/tackle shops, and seafood dealers/ processors could be delayed if no budget deal reached soon. Without spending authority granted from the legislature in the MDMR budget these critically needed relief funds will sit idle on the shelf.
- Recreational red snapper season may not re-open if a budget deal is not reached. The season closed prematurely when the MDMR had to close doors for a week while leaders found a way to work around the budget lapse. There is still roughly 18,000 pounds in unharvested recreational red snapper quota left on the table or about a weeks worth of fishing. Any unused quota would likely not roll over into next year. Not to mention the threat of revocation of state management of the species that the federal government recently granted to individual Gulf States.
49 projects for GOMESA funds were sent to Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) to review for state conservation and estuaries. “The agency is using the money wisely and in the best place while a lot of these projects have been vetted,” said Spraggins. “We’re waiting on the Legislature to give the governor authority so we don’t have to wait on Louisiana or the Army Corps of Engineers.”
In other actions, the Commission approved a project application from the Hancock County Board of Supervisors, who proposed to continue re-nourishing critically eroded portions of the sand beach along Beach Boulevard in Hancock County by using conventional earth moving equipment to retrieve accumulated sands in near shore shallow waters. This project has been permitted since 2010 and will continue on an annual basis.
Near shore sand retrieval will occur in section no large than 2000 feet long by 500 feet wide, located at a minimum 250 feet from the existing seawall. The beach would have a design width of 200 feet, plus an intertidal zone of 50 feet. Sand will be removed in lifts of six inches or less with the total excavation not to exceed one foot. The annual proposed amount of sand retrieved is 100,000 cubic yards.
Following the recommendation by the MDMR agency, the CMR unanimously approved the recommendation contingent upon clearance of the Mississippi Department of Archives & History.
Conclusively, the agency fiscally reported a $3 million metric in state revenue with the exact same amount in agency earnings. The operating funds for MDMR still had 96.2% remaining and 97.3% left in the budget for the Tidelands Trust Fund.