Jamie Miller is the Executive Director of the DMR and he is responsible for overseeing all operations which encompasses several divisions. The Department of Marine Resources became a state agency in 1994. It is lead by Miller and a five member commission. The DMR manages all marine life and public trust wetlands and adjacent uplands. The agents monitor all recreational and commercial fishing and provide education in these areas. Conservation and preservation of land also falls under the jurisdiction of the DMR. They are the regulatory arm and keep watch over all coastal development as it relates to coastal waterways and the marine environment. A marine patrol of approximately 50 officers share the duty of enforcing local fishing regulations. Inspections of seafood processing plants takes place on a regular basis as well. “The DMR is in charge of the research that goes into understanding our environment and marine resources that we have here, as well as setting policy and laws and enforcing those laws all along the Gulf Coast,” Miller said.
The DMR partners with the Coast Guard and local law enforcement agencies. Field officers patrol the water all the time and are ready to respond at a moment’s notice when a distress call goes out. The DMR has a dual role with the Coast Guard, they work together patrolling the many coastal waterways. Depending on where a boating accident or any other incident requiring assistance takes place, DMR contacts the local law enforcement first. It is not unusual for police officers to have water capabilities. They often patrol in boats as well. The DMR is the primary enforcement group on the water. In the event of an emergency, help is never too far away and a response will come quickly. All hours of the day and night, the DMR has boats patrolling the waterways. An officer is always on duty. The field officer team is made up of officers, supervisors and lieutenants, overseen by two captains, an assistant chief and a marine patrol chief. DMR officers are deputized as federal agents to enforce federal fisheries laws. “We are a state policing authority and we are in charge of our jurisdiction which is primarily south of I-10. We always co-ordinate with local law enforcement as necessary,” Miller said.
When a distress call goes out, it is heard on the broadband radio which is monitored by the DMR dispatch, the federal government, the Coast Guard and local law enforcement. Immediately, all agencies communicate with one another and coordinate a response. Whoever has a boat in the closest proximity to the emergency, goes out first. First responders continue to communicate with each other throughout the event. If the emergency occurs in federal waters, the response is handled by federal authorities. If it happens in state waters, the DMR is the number one authority. “Every incident does not require a local or Coast Guard presence. Many times the DMR officers can handle the situation as it develops,” Miller said. In the case of boating accidents or marine related death the DMR always has jurisdiction. They are responsible for reporting the accident, and they have a dive team always on call. The divers specialize in search and rescue. They go to the scene of the accident after it has been determined that someone has perished or drowned. The DMR also coordinates with the coroner of the county where the accident took place. When local law enforcement officers are first on the scene of a serious water accident and or fatality, they in turn contact the DMR to handle the matter.
Anytime a DMR officer is called out for a boating accident or they are simply on a routine boater’s safety inspection, there is always the possibility for narcotics to be found on board. If narcotics are discovered, the drugs are immediately confiscated and arrests are made on the boat. Once again, the DMR coordinates with federal officials and local law enforcement. Boating under the influence is another very serious issue. As driving under the influence is known as DUI, boating under the influence is called BUI. The DMR enforces these laws on the water as well.
Everyone who fishes on the Gulf Coast either commercially or for recreation must have a license and also must obey state and CMR laws regarding catch size, catch limits and when they can fish. All boats must be properly registered and all equipment must meet regulations. Biologists and scientists do constant research and sampling to determine the best way to manage the marine resources. This protects the interests of both commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen. Based on recommendations from the scientists (federal and state), the DMR commission establishes policies about the number of fish and species that will be allowed to be caught. The enforcement part of the agency is to make sure that all laws and policies are adhered to. It is also through these scientific findings that the various fishing “seasons” are determined. The sampled fish (shellfish and fin fish) are routinely inspected for growth and development of the species. Based on the data presented by the experts, the DMR decides when the particular season will open and when it will close. Fishing seasons fluctuate. You can depend on spring and summer seasons but the exact opening date will change every year. “We have a great deal of influence over state waters, but we have a joint jurisdiction with federal waters. Red snapper are completely managed under the federal government, however we partner with them to enforce those laws,” Miller said. The DMR is involved in every aspect of monitoring the Gulf. When severe weather threatens, agents remain close to the harbor so they are able to respond with great expediency if a distress call comes in. “It is never a good idea to be out on a boat when inclement weather approaches,” Miller said.
Recreational boaters must follow strict guidelines for optimum safety on the water. A child, age 12 or under must have a life jacket on at all times. “We encourage all boaters regardless of age to wear life jackets because it can mean the difference between life and death if something goes wrong,” Miller said. Alcohol consumption must be limited when on the water and just as is protocol on land, a designated driver should be appointed on each trip who does not drink at all. Children should never ride on the bow of the boat and behavior should be carefully supervised by adult passengers at all times to ensure children do not fall into the water or get into a life threatening situation. Things can go wrong in the blink of an eye. “We hope that everyone will take necessary precautions to be safe. Always have a float plan for every boating trip. Make sure friends and loved ones know where you are going and how long you expect to be gone, and be sure that your vessel has all the necessary safety equipment on board before you leave,” Miller said. Anyone born on or after June 30, 1980, must attend and pass a boat and water safety class before they can operate a vessel on the public waters in Mississippi. The DMR offers boating safety classes in conjunction with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for free each weekend during the summer months. Please call 228-523-4128 or 228-523-4134 or go to the website for more information.
“We serve the people in a very significant role, preserving the culture of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We keep the fishing industry healthy and thriving, and we do our best to keep boaters safe every time they venture out into the water. I am very proud of the work we do and very pleased to provide these services to the public,” Miller said.