Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Executive Director Joe Spraggins (L) receives a check of $7.35 million from Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson at the Bolton Auditorium in Biloxi, MS on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Calvin Ishee/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

by Hunter Dawkins, Publisher

At the recent Mississippi Advisory Commission of Marine Resources last Tuesday, the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Executive Director General Joe Spraggins informed the commissioners there was a nearly $2 million shortfall from the Public Tidelands Trust Fund held back that has affected a few of the managed projects. 

According to Spraggins, the Mississippi State Legislature could give spending authority soon in their appropriations deadline.  No word was given about the 3 advisory commissioners up for re-appointment who terms will expire at sine die of the 2021 legislative session.

In other action, CARES Act Funding: 187 commercial fishermen applied, 160 found eligible; 49 charter boats applied, 44 found eligible; 20 seafood dealers applied, 13 found eligible.  DMR says final payment list has been sent to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission for processing and pending final approval for NOAA. Eligible applicants should expect to see their payment in around 4 weeks.

Additionally, DMR is still waiting to hear from NOAA on the approval of the recently submitted spending plan for the 2019 Bonnet Carre’ Spillway disaster.

Spraggins approved the following:  establishing a no wake zone in Simmons Bayou around the area of Eagle Pine Island, the agency conducting a crab trap closure for commercial and recreational crab fishermen in all Mississippi state waters located within one half (1/2) mile of the mainland shoreline and Deer Island from 6:00 a.m. Thursday, January 21, through 6:00 a.m. Sunday, January 31, and acknowledged a state saltwater finfish record for striped mullet: 5 lbs, 6.95 oz- Joey Beasarcon, Sr.

The current DMR-related bills in the state legislature are:

Senate Bill 2653 (authored by Mike Thompson R-Pass Christian, Long Beach, West Gulfport) – A similar bill was introduced several years ago with no luck by former Senator Michael Watson (now Secretary of State) in an attempt to establish a mechanism for the removal of submerged logs from water bottoms (primarily rivers). There are some interests that want to be able to recover these logs as they apparently are of modest value. This bill would establish a leasing mechanism for public trust tidelands or submerged lands with the Secretary of State’s office that would allow for these types of submerged logs to be lawfully removed for commercial purposes.

House Bill 594 (Timmy Ladner R-Poplarville, Kiln, Carriere) – DMR was successfully sued over a land issue that revolved around the interpretation or determination of the “ordinary high water mark (OHWM)” as it relates to the placing of bulkheads and rip-rap on private property. This bill would clarify some of the issues that MDMR is dealing with in this regard primarily related to wetlands permitting.

Senate Bill 2784 (Philip Moran R-Pass Christian, Diamondhead, Bay St. Louis, Kiln) – This bill clarifies the MDMR’s ability to assess administrative penalties for violations of marine resources regulations or statutes. Currently, the law allows the CMR to levy administrative fines and pass judgement on violators. Since, the CMR is now advisory only, this bill would give the Director the authority to accept, set, or reject fines after receiving a recommendation from the advisory commission.

Friday, February 12 is the deadline for the State Legislature to consider and approve bills through committee.