MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATURE

2023 Regular Session

To: Ports and Marine Resources

By: Senator(s) Thompson, Moran

Senate Bill 2544

(As Sent to Governor)

AN ACT RELATING TO THE REGULATION OF SEAFOOD AND OYSTERS BY THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF MARINE RESOURCES; TO AMEND SECTIONS 49-15-3, 49-15-5, 49-15-7, 49-15-9, 49-15-16, 49-15-17, 49-15-18, 49-15-23, 49-15-27, 49-15-29, 49-15-30, 49-15-31, 49-15-34, 49-15-35, 49-15-36, 49-15-37, 49-15-38, 49-15-40, 49-15-44, 49-15-45, 49-15-46 AND 49-15-47, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO CLARIFY THE AUTHORITY OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF MARINE RESOURCES TO LEASE REEFS AND BOTTOM LAND FOR OYSTER GROWING/HARVESTING AND TO CLARIFY THE AUTHORITY OF THE DEPARTMENT TO REGULATE THE TAKING OF OYSTERS AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF NEW OYSTER BEDS; TO REQUIRE ALL LESSEES TO BE RESIDENTS OF THE STATE; TO ESTABLISH THE "OYSTER PRODUCTION PRESERVE ACCOUNT" WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT'S SEAFOOD FUND, WHICH IS EARMARKED FOR OYSTER PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT AND TO REQUIRE ANNUAL REPORTS ON EXPENDITURES; TO CLARIFY THE FIRST RIGHT OF RENEWAL OF EXISTING LESSEES; TO PRESCRIBE CERTAIN REQUIREMENTS FOR THE INITIAL APPLICATION FOR LEASE; TO PROVIDE FOR PENALTIES AND PROCEDURES IN THE EVENT OF DEFAULT IN PAYMENT OF RENT; TO PROVIDE FOR CANCELLATION AND FOR FORFEITURES; TO PROVIDE A RIGHT OF APPEAL; TO DELETE CERTAIN PROVISIONS RELATING TO DEPURATION TECHNOLOGY; TO DELETE CERTAIN PROVISIONS RELATING TO RESTRICTED SEED AREAS; TO PROVIDE RECIPROCITY FOR CERTAIN NONRESIDENT VESSEL OYSTER DREDGING AND TONGING FEES; TO DELETE THE AUTHORITY OF LOCAL GOVERNING AUTHORITIES TO ASSIST THE DEPARTMENT IN PLANTING OYSTER SHELLS; TO DELETE THE PROVISIONS THAT ALL REEFS ARE PUBLIC; TO PRESCRIBE CERTAIN CONDITIONS FOR STATE-OWNED REEFS; TO DELETE THE AUTHORITY OF THE DEPARTMENT TO EXERCISE EMINENT DOMAIN IN CONSTRUCTING CANALS; TO CLARIFY THE AUTHORITY OF MUNICIPALITIES RELATIVE TO THE WATERS OF THE MISSISSIPPI SOUND; TO REPEAL SECTION 49-15-39, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, WHICH REGULATES TONGING REEFS AND PRESCRIBES CERTAIN CRIMINAL PENALTIES RELATED TO TONGING REEFS AND TO REPEAL SECTION 49-15-40.1, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, WHICH AUTHORIZES THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF MARINE RESOURCES TO CONDUCT A PILOT PROGRAM FOR BOTTOM LAND LEASING FOR OYSTER PRODUCTION IN WATERS ADJACENT TO HANCOCK COUNTY; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.

     BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:

     SECTION 1.  Section 49-15-3, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-3.  As used in this chapter, the term:

          (a)  "Commission" means the Mississippi Advisory Commission on Marine Resources.

          (b)  "Department" means the Department of Marine Resources.

          (c)  "Domicile" means a person's principal or primary place of abode in which a person's habitation is fixed and to which the person, whenever absent, has the present intention of returning after a departure of absence therefrom, regardless of the duration of the absence.  The burden of proving domicile in the State of Mississippi shall be on the person claiming that status.  A person holding a current driver's license shall be deemed to be domiciled within the state issuing the license.  If a person does not hold a current driver's license the following evidence may be considered in establishing, but is not necessarily determinative of domicile:  residence for income or other tax purposes, homestead exemption receipt or other means prescribed by the * * * commission department.  In the case of minors, domicile of the parents shall be used as evidence of the minor's domicile.

          (d)  "Game fish" means cobia, also known as ling or lemonfish (rachycentron canadum).  The cobia is classified as game fish.

          (e)  "Illegal oysters" means:

              (i)  All untagged shell stock;

              (ii)  Shell oysters obtained from uncertified shops or dealers or from an unlicensed catcher;

              (iii)  Oysters obtained from waters not declared safe and sanitary by the department, except those oysters caught by the * * * commission department for re-laying or under private leases pursuant to Section 49-15-27;

              (iv)  Shucked oysters obtained from uncertified shops or repackers.

          (f)  "Inspector" means the chief inspector, the assistant chief inspector, deputy inspector, bureau director and certified enforcement officer employed by the department.

          (g)  "Natural reefs" means any bottom under the jurisdiction of the * * * commission department of one or more acres on which oysters grow naturally, or have grown naturally, in a quantity sufficient to warrant commercial fishing as a means of livelihood, or have been used in such a manner within a period of ten (10) years next preceding the time the bottoms may come up for determination by the * * * commission department.

          (h)  "Resident" means a person, firm or corporation that is domiciled in this state.

          (i)  "Seafood" means all oysters, saltwater fish, saltwater shrimp, diamondback terrapin, sea turtle, crabs and all other species of marine or saltwater animal life existing or living in the waters within the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Mississippi.

 * * *  (j)  "Tonging reefs" means any bottom under the jurisdiction of the commission designated by the commission as an area in which oysters may be taken by use of hand tongs, as provided in Section 49‑15‑39.

     SECTION 2.  Section 49-15-5, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-5.  All seafoods existing or living in waters within the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Mississippi not held in private ownership legally acquired, and all beds and bottoms of rivers, streams, bayous, lagoons, lakes, bays, sounds and inlets bordering on or connecting with the Gulf of Mexico or Mississippi Sound within such territorial jurisdiction, including all oysters and other shell fish and parts thereof grown thereon, either naturally or cultivated, shall be, continue, and remain the property of the State of Mississippi, to be held in trust for the people thereof until title thereto shall be legally divested in the manner and form hereinafter authorized, and the same shall be under the exclusive control of the * * * commission department until the right of private ownership shall vest therein as hereinafter provided.

     SECTION 3.  Section 49-15-7, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-7.  All shells of dead oysters, clams and other shellfish; and all of the oyster shells, clam shells, mussel shells, dead reef shells, and cay shells, being upon or under the bottom of, or under the tidewaters within the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Mississippi, and all beds, banks and accumulations of such shells within such territorial jurisdiction on or under the bottoms of such waters, or surrounded by such waters, being the property of the State of Mississippi are hereby further declared to be the property of the State of Mississippi under the jurisdiction of the * * * commission department.

     SECTION 4.  Section 49-15-9, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-9.  The sole right of planting, cultivating in racks or other structures, and gathering oysters and erecting bathhouses and other structures in front of any land bordering on the Gulf of Mexico or Mississippi Sound or waters tributary thereto belongs to the riparian owner and extends not more than seven hundred fifty (750) yards from the shore, except for state-owned lands on Deer Island, which shall be not more than four hundred (400) yards from shore, measuring from the average low water mark, but where the distance from shore to shore is less than fifteen hundred (1500) yards, the owners of either shore may plant and gather to a line equidistant between the two (2) shores, but no person shall plant in any natural channel so as to interfere with navigation, and such riparian rights shall not include any reef or natural oyster bed and does not extend beyond any channel.  A riparian owner shall comply with the Coastal Wetlands Protection Act in exercising the use of these riparian rights.  Stakes of such frail materials as will not injure any watercraft may be set up to designate the bounds of the plantation, but navigation shall not be impeded thereby.  The riparian owner shall clearly mark such cultivation racks and other structures.  The * * * commission department may adopt regulations to require that the racks are adequately marked to ensure the safety of users of public waters.  Any oysters planted by such riparian owner are the private property of such riparian owner, subject to the right of the * * * commission department to adopt reasonable rules and regulations as to the planting and gathering of such oysters.  All bathhouses, piers, wharfs, docks and pavilions, or other structures owned by the riparian owner are likewise the private property of such owner, who shall be entitled to the exclusive use, occupancy and possession thereof, and may abate any private or public nuisance committed by any person or persons in the area of his riparian ownership and may, for such purposes, resort to any remedial action authorized by law.  The governing authorities of any municipality and the board of supervisors of any county are authorized to adopt reasonable rules and regulations to protect riparian owners in the enjoyment of their riparian rights, and for such purposes may regulate the use of beaches, landings, and riparian areas abutting or fronting on roads, streets or highways.

     SECTION 5.  Section 49-15-16, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-16.  The * * * commission department may develop a limited entry fisheries management program for all resource groups.  The * * * commission department may require a license for each resource group and shall establish the fees for such licenses.  The * * * commission department may establish a means test or any other criteria to determine eligibility for licenses under the limited entry program.  The * * * commission department may impose a moratorium on the issuance of licenses for a fishery resource.

     SECTION 6.  Section 49-15-17, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-17.  (1)  (a)  All monies received or obtained by the * * * commission department under the provisions of this chapter shall be paid over by the * * * commission department to the State Treasurer and shall be deposited into the fund known as the "Seafood Fund."  All revenues collected through the department, to include, but not limited to, commercial saltwater licenses and taxes, permits, fines and penalties, and confiscated catches, shall be deposited into the department operating account (Seafood Fund) and expended for the operation of the department, as authorized by the Legislature.

          (b)  There is established a special account to be known as the "Artificial Reef Program Account" within the Seafood Fund.  Any funds received from any public or private source for the purpose of promoting, constructing, monitoring or maintaining artificial reefs in the marine waters of the state or in federal waters adjacent to the marine waters of the state shall be credited to the account.  Any unexpended funds remaining in the account at the end of the fiscal year shall not lapse into the Seafood Fund, but shall remain in the account.  The department may expend any funds in the account, subject to appropriation by the Legislature, to accomplish the purpose of the account.

          (c)  There is established a special account to be known as the "Coastal Preserve Account" within the Seafood Fund.  Any funds received from any public or private source for the purpose of management, improvement and acquisition of coastal preserves in the state and money required to be deposited pursuant to Sections 27-19-56.10 and 27-19-56.27, shall be credited to the account.  Any unexpended funds remaining in the account at the end of the fiscal year shall not lapse into the Seafood Fund, but shall remain in the account.  The department may expend any funds in the account, subject to appropriation by the Legislature, for the management, improvement and acquisition of coastal preserves.

          (d)  There is established a special account to be known as the "Mississippi Seafood Marketing Program Account" within the Seafood Fund.  Monies required to be deposited into the account under Section 27-19-56.27 and any funds received from any public or private source for the purpose of promoting the Mississippi seafood industry must be credited to the account.  Any unexpended funds remaining in the account at the end of the fiscal year do not lapse into the Seafood Fund, but remain in the account.  The department may expend any funds in the account, subject to appropriation by the Legislature, to accomplish the purposes of this account, including, but not limited to, providing funds for cobia stock enhancement programs.

          (e)  There is established a special account to be known as the "Oyster Production Preserve Account" within the Seafood Fund.  Monies required to be deposited from oyster leasing and licensing payments under Section 27-15-27, sack fees, money required to be deposited pursuant to Sections 27-19-56.10 and 27-19-56.27, and any funds received from any public or private source for the purpose of oyster production and propagation in this state, which includes plantings of oysters and cultch materials, shall be credited to the account.  Any unexpended funds remaining in the account at the end of the fiscal year shall not lapse into the Seafood Fund, but shall remain in the account.  The department may expend any funds in the account, subject to specific appropriation by the Legislature, for the management, improvement and acquisition of permittable property for oyster production and propagation in the state, which includes plantings of oysters and cultch materials.  The Department of Marine Resources shall develop an annual report to the Legislature which describes the annual expenditures from this fund for the purpose of furthering oyster production and propagation in this state to be included in the department's annual budget request to the Legislative Budget Office and to be transmitted to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Committees on Ports and Marine Resources.

     (2)  The fund shall be treated as a special trust fund and interest earned on the principal shall be credited to the fund.

     (3)  The * * * secretary of the commission department shall keep accurate reports of monies handled as a part of the permanent records of the * * * commission department, and the State Treasurer shall furnish the * * * secretary of the commission department such forms as may be needed, and the * * * secretary department shall account for such forms in * * * his reports to the Treasurer.

     SECTION 7.  Section 49-15-18, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-18.  The executive director of the department shall publish an abstract copy of this chapter and all subsequent amendments to this chapter and all rules and regulations promulgated by the * * * commission department under this chapter.  The department may distribute the publication to all persons requesting a copy and to each licensee at the time of issuance of the license.  New regulations and amendments to this chapter may be supplied to each licensee within a reasonable time after their promulgation or passage.  The department may charge a reasonable fee not to exceed actual cost for its publications.

     SECTION 8.  Section 49-15-23, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-23.  (1)  (a)  The Mississippi * * * Commission on Department of Marine Resources and the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks are hereby authorized and empowered to establish the dividing line between salt and fresh waters, and when such line has been established and notice thereof given as provided herein, it shall be recognized in the courts in connection with any proceedings under the game and fish laws of this state.  Such line may be changed from time to time by the Mississippi * * * Commission on Department of Marine Resources and the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks on proper publication of such changes.

          (b)  In establishing the dividing line between salt and fresh waters, no part of the Bay of St. Louis shall be declared to be fresh water.

          (c)  In establishing the dividing line between salt and fresh waters, none of the waters within the municipal boundaries of the City of Pascagoula, as they existed on January 1, 1981, shall be declared to be fresh water.

          (d)  In establishing the dividing line between salt and fresh waters, no part of Bayou Cassotte and its tributaries, Bang Bayou and its tributaries, Bayou Cumbest and its tributaries, Crooked Bayou, Middle Bayou and that part of Heron Bayou with its tributaries which lie in the State of Mississippi shall be declared to be fresh water.

     (2)  Whenever any dividing line is established or changed as above provided, notice shall be given to the public by publication for three (3) weeks in a newspaper published and having general circulation in the county or counties affected thereby, and a description of the dividing line shall be filed in the office of the chancery clerk of such counties or county.

     SECTION 9.  Section 49-15-27, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-27.  The department is hereby granted full and complete authority to lease the bottoms within its jurisdiction upon the following terms and conditions:

     (1)  All areas within the department's jurisdiction, not designated * * * tonging reefs state-owned reefs by this chapter, * * * or hereinafter designated tonging reefs by the department; all areas not designated natural reefs by the department, including natural reefs and all areas not within the boundaries of riparian property owners may be leased by the department.

     (2)  All individual lessees shall be residents of the State of Mississippi, or if a firm or corporation, such firm or corporation shall be organized under the laws of the State of Mississippi and owned by a resident of the State of Mississippi.

     (3)  No individual, corporation, partnership or association may lease less than one (1) acre nor more than * * * three thousand five hundred (3,500) two thousand five hundred (2,500) acres total; however, in the case of an individual there shall * * * not be counted towards such limitation any lands leased by a corporation, partnership or association in which such individual owns ten percent (10%) or less interest and, in the case of a corporation, partnership or association, there shall * * * not be counted toward such limitation any lands leased by an individual stockholder, partner or associate thereof who owns ten percent (10%) or less interest in such corporation, partnership or association.

     (4)  Individuals, firms or corporations desiring to lease bottoms shall make application to the department in writing, describing the area to be leased.  Applications must include a plat showing the proposed lease area and description of cultch material type and amount to be deployed on the leased area.

     (5) * * *  The department shall consider bottom leasing applications in the order in which each is filed and may award  (a)  Any person who qualifies and who desires to lease a part of the bottom or bed of any of the waters of this state as provided in this section shall present to the department a written application, and pay an application fee in the amount of Fifty Dollars ($50.00).  This application shall contain the name and address of the applicant and a reasonably definite description of the location and amount of land covered by water desired by the applicant.  Upon receipt of the application, the department shall then register the application with date and time stamped thereon, shall order an examination to determine whether the water bottoms applied for are leasable, and shall determine the acreage upon which the rental of the lease shall be fixed.  If the area is found to be leasable, the department shall either make a lease with the applicant or issue a written notice declining the application with reasons for same within * * * sixty (60) thirty (30) days * * *, a of the date of the application.  Such lease * * * to shall be for the area described in the application upon payment of the prorated annual rent in advance for the remainder of the calendar year.

          (b)  When applications are made by two (2) or more persons for the same water bottoms, the applicant or the heirs or transferors of a deceased applicant who files the first application has prior claim.

          (c)  The department shall require that the bottoms of water areas to be leased be as definable as possible, taking into consideration such factors as the shape of the body of water, and the condition of the bottom as to hardness or softness which would render it desirable or undesirable for the purpose of oyster cultivation.

          (d)  The provisions of this subsection shall apply only to the initial application for an oyster lease, and not to the renewal of a lease.

          (e)  The department may not execute a lease until the department has posted notice of the application for the lease on its website for thirty (30) consecutive days.

          (f)  Any person claiming ownership of or interest in the water bottoms to be leased may protest the issuance of the lease on the grounds that the protesting party owns the water bottoms, but only by delivering via certified mail notice of the protest in writing to the Secretary of State, and the lease applicant on or before the thirtieth day after notice of the application was posted.  The notice of protest shall include all information and documentation that the protesting party believes is relevant to the question of ownership.  The right to protest issuance of the lease pursuant to this section shall expire if a protest is not made on or before the ninetieth day after notice of the application was posted.

          (g)  If a protest is timely made, the Secretary of State shall review the claim to ownership of the contested water bottoms and issue a preliminary determination to the protesting party, and the lease applicant within ninety (90) days of receiving the notice of protest.  Any applicant shall have the right to appeal any decision of the department related to such protest to the circuit court with proper venue.

          (h)  A lease applicant may withdraw a lease application and receive a full refund from the department of all application fees, by submitting a written request for withdrawal to the department within ninety (90) days after the department posts notice of the application on its website.

     (6)  Such leases shall be for an initial term of * * * five (5) fifteen (15) years, with the * * * right of lessee * * * to renew having the right of first renewal of the lease for an additional * * * five (5) fifteen (15) years, and continue to renew at * * * five‑ fifteen-year intervals, at the same ground rental rate so long as lessee actively cultivates and gathers oysters, and complies with the provisions of this chapter.  No lease may be transferred without approval by the department of the transfer.

     (7)  The terms of every lease issued hereunder shall ensure the maximum cultivation and propagation of oysters.  Throughout the term of every lease issued hereunder, each lessee shall add cultch and make other necessary efforts to ensure the maximum cultivation and propagation of oysters.  The department shall promulgate regulations to set forth guidelines for lessees to follow to ensure the maximum cultivation and propagation of oysters under the lease.  The lessee shall submit a written report with supporting documentation to the department of efforts to cultivate and propagate oysters for the previous year.  If the department finds a lessee is not making efforts to cultivate and propagate oysters, and the lessee fails to take remedial steps to address same, such lease shall be subject to termination as provided for hereunder.

     ( * * *78)  The department shall fix a ground rental rate at * * * not less than Five Dollars ($5.00) Three Dollars ($3.00) per acre per year.  The annual rental payments shall be due by December 31 for the next calendar year.

     (9)  Any lessee who pays the rent on or after the first day of January shall pay the rent due plus an additional ten percent (10%) penalty.  The failure of the lessee to pay the rent punctually on or before the first of each March, ipso facto and without demand or putting in default, terminates and cancels the lease and forfeits to the department all the works, improvements, betterments, and oysters on the leased water bottom.  The department may at once enter on the water bottom and take possession thereof.  Such water bottom shall then be open for lease in accordance with subsections (5) through (8) of this section.  Ten (10) days thereafter the department shall enter the termination, cancellation, and forfeiture on its books and give public notice thereof by publication in one (1) local paper in the county where the formerly leased water bottoms are located.  On or before the first day of each February, the department shall issue a written notice of delinquency by certified mail to each lessee who has not yet paid the rent.  The department shall also publish notice of such delinquency on its website.

     ( * * *810)  The department shall keep an accurate chart of the areas within its jurisdiction and shall mark on such chart those areas which are under lease.  All leases shall be marked by appropriate poles, stakes or buoys of such material as will not injure watercraft, at the expense of the leaseholder.  The department shall keep an accurate book, designated "Mississippi Oyster Farms" which shall contain copies of all leases.  The department shall maintain a map of designated state-owned, leased areas, and areas available for lease on the department's website.  If any lease be cancelled or expire, such fact shall be noted on the face of such lease.  Lessees shall be "oyster farmers" for the purposes of any grants, aid, subsidies or other assistance from the federal government or other governmental or private agencies.

     ( * * *911)  All funds derived from leasing shall be paid into the Seafood Fund under Section 49-15-17, for use by the department to further oyster production in this state, which includes plantings of oysters and cultch materials.

     ( * * *1012)  All leases made by the department under the authority of this section shall be subject to the paramount right of the state and any of its political subdivisions authorized by law, to promote and develop ports, harbors, channels, industrial or recreational projects, and all such leases shall contain a provision that in the event such authorized public body shall require the area so leased or any part thereof for such public purposes, that the lease shall be terminated on reasonable notice fixed by the department in such lease.  On the termination of any lease, the lessees shall have the right to remove any oysters within the leased area within such time as may be fixed by the department and in accordance with such reasonable rules and regulations as the department may adopt.

     Any person convicted of taking oysters from leased land or from waters that are not of a safe sanitary quality without a permit as provided in Section 49-15-37 shall, on the first offense, forfeit all equipment used, exclusive of any boat or boats; and be fined not to exceed Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00) or sentenced not to exceed one (1) year in the county jail, or both.  Subsequent convictions shall be punishable by forfeiture of all equipment, including any boat or boats; and a fine not to exceed Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) or not to exceed two (2) years in prison, or both such fine and imprisonment.

     The department is enjoined to cooperate with the Jackson County Port Authority, the Harrison County Development Commission, the municipal port commission and other port and harbor agencies, so that oyster beds shall not be planted in close proximity to navigable channels.  The department or lessee shall have no right of action as against any such public body for damages accruing to any natural reef or leased reef by any necessary improvement of such channel in the interest of shipping, commerce, navigation or other purpose authorized by law.

     (13)  A lessee has the exclusive use of the water bottoms leased and all oysters and cultch grown or placed thereon.  However, this exclusive right is subordinate to the rights and responsibilities of the state, any political subdivision of the state, the United States, or any agency or agent thereof, to take action in furtherance of coastal protection, conservation or restoration.

     (14)  In order to protect the health and safety of the residents of the State of Mississippi, the terms and conditions relating to the leasing of bottoms provided in this section shall be fully applicable to any lease executed by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources prior to the passage of this act, and the department shall revise any lease issued prior to the passage of this act as necessary in order to comply with the provisions of this section.

     SECTION 10.  Section 49-15-29, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-29.  (1)  The * * * commission department shall assess and collect license fees and taxes as authorized under this chapter.

     (2)  All commercial licenses provided for under this chapter that relate to seafood shall be purchased from May 1 through April 30 at the fees provided in this chapter.  The licenses shall expire on April 30 following the date of issuance.

     (3)  When an application for an original or renewal license of any kind authorized by this chapter is received by the * * * commission department, the * * * commission department shall determine whether the vessel or related equipment subject to that license is owned and operated in compliance with applicable federal and state laws.  If the * * * commission department determines that a vessel or its owner is not in compliance with applicable federal and state laws, then no license shall be issued or renewed for the operation of that vessel for a period of one (1) year.  All licenses shall be made available for purchase at any building which is regularly operated by the department * * * or commission on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

     (4)  The * * * commission department may authorize any person, other than a salaried employee of the state to issue any license under this chapter which the * * * commission department deems appropriate.  The authorized person may collect and retain for issuance of the license the sum of One Dollar ($1.00) in addition to the license fee provided in this chapter.  The * * * commission department shall establish the qualifications of persons authorized to issue licenses under this section and shall also establish the procedure for the issuance of that license by the authorized person and the procedure for collection of license fees by and from the authorized person.

     (5)  The * * * commission department may design, establish, and administer a program to provide for the purchase, by electronic means, of any license, permit, registration or reservation issued by the * * * commission or department.  Any actual costs associated to provide these documents electronically may be added to the cost of the electronic program.

     SECTION 11.  Section 49-15-30, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-30.  (1)  The * * * commission department may promulgate rules and regulations for nonresident permits in order to promote reciprocal agreements with other states.

     (2)  Except as otherwise provided in Section 49-15-46, the * * * commission department shall provide that residents of other states bordering on the Gulf of Mexico who are applicants for a commercial fishing license of any type as provided for in this chapter shall pay the same fee or fees that a resident of this state pays in this state for that license if the respective applicant's domicile state does not charge a greater fee or fees for a Mississippi resident than for a resident of any other state to engage in a like activity in the other state.  If the applicant's domicile state does charge a greater fee or fees for residents of Mississippi than for a resident of the applicant's domicile state, then that applicant shall pay the same fee or fees that the applicant's domicile state charges residents of Mississippi.

     (3)  The * * * commission department shall require a nonresident to purchase the same type and number of licenses and pay the same fees that are required of Mississippi residents to engage in like activity in the nonresident's state.

     (4)  (a)  If an applicant applies for a nonresident commercial fishing license to engage in a certain activity and the applicant's state does not issue a nonresident commercial fishing license for that activity, then the * * * commission department shall not issue such license to the applicant.

          (b)  If the applicant's domicile state has additional mandatory licensing requirements, the applicant must meet those requirements before receiving a nonresident commercial fishing license.

     (5)  Any nonresident who engages in the commercial taking of seafood within the territorial waters of Mississippi without having the required nonresident commercial license is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) and shall forfeit any equipment, gear or nets used in the offense.

     SECTION 12.  Section 49-15-31, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-31.  (1)  The * * * commission department may construct, maintain and operate all patrol stations, camps and related facilities as may be deemed necessary by the * * * commission department.

     (2)  If a regulatory agency of a foreign state establishes a station or checkpoint through which Mississippi residents must pass for license, permit or catch inspection, or otherwise, the department shall establish similar stations or checkpoints through which residents of the foreign states shall be required to pass.

     SECTION 13.  Section 49-15-34, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-34.  (1)  The * * * commission department shall require all boats used under regulation of this chapter which are also used in waters of other states and required by those states to pay licenses or fees for the same purposes as licenses and fees are required under this chapter to purchase a license which reflects that the licensed boats are used inside and outside the territorial waters of Mississippi.  Upon the issuance of that license, the licensed boat, if used exclusively for commercial fishing or charter boats which have been licensed and authorized by the United States Coast Guard under 46 CFR Sections 24-26 and 46 CFR Sections 175-187, shall be deemed to be in the business of interstate transportation, but this shall in no way affect the collection of other licenses and fees by the * * * commission department which would otherwise be due under this chapter.  The * * * commission department shall assess and collect an annual license fee of Twenty Dollars ($20.00) on each boat engaged in operations under this subsection.

     (2)  Notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter, the * * * commission department shall establish a transport permit to land seafood in this state which is legally taken outside of the Mississippi territorial waters without obtaining a license under this chapter.  The * * * commission department by regulation shall require the registration of those landings.  The * * * commission department may establish a permit fee in an amount not to exceed the amount of the license fee established in Section 49-15-28(1).  This subsection shall not be construed to supersede Section 49-15-71.

     SECTION 14.  Section 49-15-35, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-35.  Upon the request of the boards of supervisors of the respective coastal counties, the * * * commission department may adopt ordinances prohibiting the taking and catching of menhaden within certain limits of the coast line of the county so requesting, but the * * * commission department shall not fix such limits except upon request of the board of supervisors, and such limit shall not exceed two (2) miles from the shore line, or two (2) miles from the corporate limit boundaries of any municipality bordering on the Mississippi Sound.

     SECTION 15.  Section 49-15-36, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-36.  (1)  The Department of Marine Resources shall have full jurisdiction and control of all * * * public and natural oyster designated state-owned reefs and oyster bottoms of the State of Mississippi.  In no event shall the department designate more than twenty percent (20%) of the permitted areas available as state-owned reefs.

     (2) * * *  Public  State-owned reefs may be opened for harvest of oysters during the season on a rotating basis.  If the department determines that a particular reef has been overharvested or that a high percentage of sublegal size oysters exist on a particular reef and that harvest could damage future oyster crops, the department may close designated reef areas and keep them closed during the season.

     (3)  The department shall promulgate regulations regarding the closing of oyster reefs to protect the public health.  When that testing indicates the oysters on the closed reef are suitable for consumption, the reef shall be opened for the taking of oysters as soon as notice of that opening may be made to interested parties.  The authority to open or close oyster reefs under this chapter shall be solely within the discretion of the department.  The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory or other certified laboratory shall cooperate with the department and shall conduct necessary tests to determine the condition of oyster reefs at the request of the department.  The department may limit the sale of oysters for human consumption.

     (4)  (a)  The department may issue special permits for the purpose of catching oysters outside the open season or in areas not normally open to harvest to those nonprofit organizations that are tax exempt under Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code and which have on file with the Department of Revenue a tax exemption letter issued by the United States Internal Revenue Service.

          (b)  The department shall promulgate rules and regulations governing the taking of oysters by the nonprofit organization and shall issue such regulations to all organizations upon request and at the issuance of the special permit.

     (5)  The department shall establish a reasonable period of time for depuration of oysters replanted from restricted waters.  That period of time shall be consistent with the maintenance of the public health and may vary from time to time and from one reef to another in accordance with environmental conditions.

 * * * (6)  The department is authorized to conduct a pilot program for bottom land leasing for oyster production as provided in Section 49‑15‑40.1.

     SECTION 16.  Section 49-15-37, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-37. * * *  By order of the commission, the director, under the direction and control of the commission, shall  The department may employ boats, crews and laborers * * * and shall to cultivate the * * * public state-owned reefs of the state, and * * * shall dredge the oysters in the Mississippi Sound from places where they are too thick, and * * * shall spread them on reefs where they are too thin, and * * * shall carry shells from the factories and spread them in places where the oyster beds can be improved and enlarged.  The department may open state-owned reefs to the public for harvest.  The department may purchase other materials as may be equally suitable for the propagation of oysters.  The department in cultivating the reefs, transplanting and spreading oysters and shells and other suitable materials, may expend any funds available for that purpose, as provided by Section 49-15-17(1)(e).  In taking seed oysters, care shall be used to not injure or destroy the merchantable oysters on the reefs from which they are taken.  The seed oysters shall be tonged from the "conner" or seed reefs, unless it is practicable and safe to dredge those oysters.  The * * * commission department may * * *, by orders spread on its minutes, establish new bedding grounds at those places within the boundaries of the state as it may determine, on advice of the director, or on advice of technical governmental experts, or competent aquatic biologists.  On existing * * * public state-owned reefs in which oysters exist and in waters not of a safe sanitary quality as determined by the department, the * * * commission department shall prohibit any person, firm or corporation from taking oysters from those areas.  The * * * commission department shall from time to time remove the oysters from the areas and relay or replant them in an approved area for a period of time under Section 49-15-36 before they may be harvested. * * *  The commission may transport the oysters to an onshore, molluscan depuration facility for the purpose of proving depuration technology and for other experimental purposes.  In connection with the testing of onshore, molluscan depuration technology, the commission may sell or dispose of the relaid oysters in a manner consistent with all applicable state and federal laws and regulations.  Any funds received from the sale of the oysters shall be used in a like manner as those funds received under Section 49-15-38.

 * * * If the commission finds that onshore, molluscan depuration technology proves to be successful, the commission may issue permits to private enterprise which may locate depuration facilities in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties.  The commission shall promulgate rules and regulations for the taking of oysters from reefs for transport to an onshore, molluscan depuration facility and for the operation of the facilities.  Each depuration facility operated by private enterprise shall return oyster shells to the oyster reefs for replanting under the proper supervision of the department and under Section 49‑15‑38.

     The * * * commission department may issue permits to persons to remove oysters by dredging or otherwise from water bottoms which are not of a safe sanitary quality for oysters for human consumption * * * even though those areas may have been reserved for tonging only in Section 49‑15‑39.  These areas * * * shall may be designated as seed grounds, and permits to persons shall be issued only for the purpose of transplanting oysters to privately leased Mississippi territorial waters.  The * * * commission department may permit the transplanting of these seed oysters by a duly authorized public agency.

     The * * * commission department may, upon * * * certification of the department that determining the water bottom from which oysters are to be removed is not of a safe, sanitary quality for oyster production for human consumption and has been unsafe for a period of at least one (1) year immediately preceding certification, and upon complying with the following requirements, permit the dredging of oysters from restricted public areas and relaying the oysters to private leased grounds in the State of Mississippi:

          (a)  Permittee must hold valid lease of oyster bedding grounds in the State of Mississippi;

          (b)  Permittee must be bonded in compliance with the permit system established by the * * * commission department;

          (c)  Permittee must fulfill all permit requirements as established by the * * * commission department;

          (d)  Permittee shall not move oysters from one restricted area to another restricted area;

          (e)  Permittee shall move oysters only to an area leased by the * * * commission after April 13, 1977 department; and

          (f)  Permittee shall not move oysters from the restricted area without the presence of an employee of the department at all times, from the dredging of the oysters from the restricted areas to their deposit on private leased grounds or to an onshore, molluscan depuration facility.

     Harvesting of oysters shall be permitted only during daylight hours and with the most efficient gear possible consistent with conservation requirements of not damaging the reefs.  This shall include permission to use two (2) dredges per boat on restricted areas and on private leased grounds.

     Any person obtaining a permit to remove oysters from seed grounds shall post a penal bond of One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) per leased acre with the * * * commission department to be forfeited upon any violation of this section.  The bond may be approved by the director of the department if the director finds the bond to be secured by sufficient property or sureties.

     The * * * commission department shall regulate the amount and time of taking of oysters from seed areas and shall supervise the removal, planting and harvesting of oysters from the areas.  The time set for the taking of oysters from restricted seed areas for relaying or replanting and the time set for the taking of oysters from private leased grounds shall be separated by not less than a period of time determined under Section 49-15-36 during which neither activity may be allowed.

 * * * The commission shall regulate the taking of oysters from restricted seed areas and the subsequent depuration of the oysters to protect public health, while at the same time fostering the utilization of the state's oyster resources.  The regulations shall include the setting of the period of depuration for the oysters by the use of appropriate techniques and provide for an employee of the department to be present when the oysters are taken from restricted seed areas, and transported, held and deposited on private lease grounds.  Any person, firm, corporation or private lease holder engaged in the depuration of oysters shall pay to the department an amount equal to the regular compensation of the employee of the department for the time the employee actually spends performing the duties, not to exceed Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00) per twenty‑four‑hour period.

Only persons who have been residents of Mississippi for at least five (5) years shall be eligible to obtain permits for removal of oysters from seed grounds.

The commission shall designate certain reefs in the state as public reefs and shall remove oysters from water bottoms which are not of a safe, sanitary quality for oyster production for human consumption and shall transport the oysters to the public reefs.

     SECTION 17.  Section 49-15-38, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-38.  (1)  (a)  Unless otherwise permitted by the * * * commission department, no oysters shall be taken from * * * the state-owned reefs * * * of this state unless culled * * * upon the natural reefs, and all oysters less than three (3) inches from end to end, and all dead shells, shall be replaced, scattered and broadcast immediately on the * * * natural reefs from which they are taken.  It is unlawful for any captain or person in charge of any vessel, or any canner, packer, commission man, dealer or other person to purchase, sell or to have in that person's possession or under that person's control any oysters off the * * * public state-owned reefs or private bedding grounds not culled according to this section, or any oysters under the legal size.  A ten percent (10%) tolerance shall be allowed in relation to any culling.

          (b)  The * * * commission department may authorize the culling of oysters of a lesser measure.  That authorization shall be in response to special circumstances or extreme natural conditions affecting the habitat, including, but not limited to, flooding.  The department may establish checkpoints in any area within its jurisdiction to conduct inspections, collect fees and issue tags in the enforcement of this chapter and regulations adopted by the commission.

     (2)  The * * * commission department shall acquire and replant shells, seed oysters and other materials, when funding is available, for the purpose of growing oysters.

     (3)  Any person, firm or corporation failing or refusing to pay the shell retention fee required under Section 49-15-46 to the department when called for by the department, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined not more than One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) for each barrel of shells for which they fail or refuse to tender the shell retention fee.  In addition to the fine, the violator shall pay the reasonable value of the oyster shells and shall be ineligible to be licensed for any activity set forth in this chapter for a period of two (2) years from the date of conviction.

     (4)  The planting of oyster shells as provided under this chapter shall be under the direction and supervision of the executive director of the department. * * *  The governing authorities of each county and municipality bordering upon the Mississippi Sound may assist the commission in the planting and replanting of oyster shells.

     SECTION 18.  Section 49-15-40, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-40. * * *  (1)  The * * * commission department may support projects in the nature of digging or constructing canals or ditches to bring additional water to existing oyster reefs or beds in need of that water, or for the purpose of creating or establishing new oyster reefs or beds. * * *  All reefs created or established under this section shall be public reefs.  The commission may expend any monies as it deems necessary and expedient to participate in the digging of those canals.  The * * * commission department may also enter into interstate or intrastate efforts to support these projects and may seek and utilize aid from all federal, state and local sources in this endeavor. * * *  To aid in the construction of any canals or ditches, the commission may exercise the right of eminent domain in the manner provided by law.

 * * * (2)  The commission may construct, operate and maintain onshore, molluscan facilities using any federal or special funds, other than general funds, for the purpose of testing and proving technology relating to oysters and other shellfish.  In connection with the construction, operation and maintenance of the facilities, the commission may contract with any persons it deems necessary for the operation, testing, maintenance and evaluation of the facilities, subject to the approval of the State Personnel Board.  The commission may locate the facilities on any available public properties, subject to the approval of the governing body of that jurisdiction and all other applicable state laws.  Once the technology has been tested and proven, the commission may conduct any other tests and experiments with oysters or other shellfish as may be necessary to enhance production or quality of shellfish.

(3)  The commission may lease to political subdivisions of the State of Mississippi up to one thousand (1,000) acres of water bottoms for development of oyster reefs and those political subdivisions may permit residents of the State of Mississippi to harvest oysters from the reefs.  The political subdivision may charge and receive a fee for each sack of oysters harvested.  The commission shall consider and approve the application of a political subdivision after determining that (a) no conflicts exist with sites requested in applications filed before the application of the political subdivision; (b) a fair and reasonable rental payment has been set; and (c) the lease will insure the maximum culture and propagation of oysters.

     SECTION 19.  Section 49-15-44, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-44.  The * * * commission department shall prohibit the sale or possession of illegal oysters.  It is unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to possess or to engage in the sale of oysters not certified in this state, or to shuck or repack for sale any illegal oysters, unless that person, firm or corporation possesses a bill of sale, valid permit or affidavit of another state, properly dated, evidencing the legality of the sale or possession of the oysters in that state.  Any person in possession of illegal oysters shall be subject to civil or criminal prosecution and shall be fined not less than One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) or punished as provided in Section 49-15-63.

     SECTION 20.  Section 49-15-45, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-45. * * *  (1)  Any municipality bounded by the Gulf of Mexico or Mississippi Sound, which has wholly or partly within its corporate limits, or in the waters adjacent thereto, a public oyster reef reserved for catching oysters exclusively by use of hand tongs, is hereby authorized to aid and cooperate with the * * * commission department in enforcing all laws regulating the catching, taking and transporting of oysters, including all of the provisions of this chapter, and all regulations and ordinances of such * * * commission department relating to such oyster reefs.

 * * * (2)  Such municipality may, in its discretion, extend its corporate limits by continuing its boundaries at right angles to the shore line, into the waters of the Mississippi Sound or Gulf of Mexico or waters tributary thereto to any line within the boundaries of the State of Mississippi, and may, by ordinance spread upon its minutes, provide that all violations of such laws and ordinances regulating the catching, taking and transporting of oysters shall be violations of the municipal ordinances and punishable as such.

     (3)  In carrying out the provisions of this section such municipality may purchase, equip and maintain a suitable patrol boat and employ and pay the salaries of a crew to operate same and officers to enforce such laws and ordinances.

     (4)  Neither prosecutions nor convictions by such municipality shall bar further prosecution and conviction by the commission or its officers for the same offense.

     (5)  All fines collected by such municipality in enforcing the provisions of this chapter shall be paid into the general fund of the municipality and all costs and expenses incurred in connection with this chapter shall be paid out of the general fund of the municipality.

     (6)  Officers employed or deputized by the municipality to carry out the provisions of this section shall have the right to make arrests without warrant for any violations of the laws, ordinances or regulations referred to in subsection (1) hereof, committed in the presence or in the view of such arresting officer.

     (7)  Nothing herein contained shall be construed to authorize any municipality to adopt any ordinances regulating catching, taking or transporting oysters.  The authority vested in such municipality under this section being limited to enforcement of statutes passed by the Legislature and ordinances and regulations adopted by the commission.

     SECTION 21.  Section 49-15-46, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-46.  (1)  Each vessel used to catch, take, carry or transport oysters from the reefs of the State of Mississippi, or engaged in transporting any oysters in any of the waters within the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Mississippi, for commercial use, shall annually, before beginning operations, be licensed by the department and pay the following license fee:

          (a)  Fifty Dollars ($50.00) on each in-state vessel or boat used for tonging oysters or gathering oysters by hand;

          (b)  One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) on each in-state vessel or boat used for dredging oysters;

          (c)  One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) on each out-of-state vessel or boat used for tonging oysters or gathering oysters by hand, or the license fee charged by the out-of-state licensing entity to Mississippi vessels or boats for tonging or gathering oysters, whichever is greater; or

          (d)  Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00) on each out-of-state vessel or boat used for dredging oysters, or the license fee charged by the out-of-state licensing entity to Mississippi vessels or boats for dredging oysters, whichever is greater.

     (2)  Each molluscan shellfish aquaculture operation shall annually, before beginning operations, be licensed by the department and pay the following license fee:

          (a)  Fifty Dollars ($50.00) on each resident molluscan shellfish aquaculture operation; or

          (b)  One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) on each nonresident molluscan shellfish aquaculture operation.

     (3)  The department may authorize the transfer of a vessel license to a different vessel provided that the owner of both vessels is the same titled owner.

     (4)  All oysters harvested in the State of Mississippi shall be tagged.  Tags shall be issued by the department and shall bear the catcher's name, the date and origin of the catch, the shell stock dealer's name and permit number.  The department shall number all tags issued and shall maintain a record of those tags.  The department, in its discretion, may adopt any regulations regarding the tagging of oysters and other shellfish.

     (5)  Each person catching or taking oysters from the waters of the State of Mississippi for personal use shall obtain a permit from the department and pay an annual recreational oyster permit fee of Ten Dollars ($10.00).  Oysters caught under a recreational permit shall not be offered for sale.  The limits on the allowable catch of oysters for recreational purposes shall be three (3) sacks per week.  The department shall issue tags of a distinguishing color to designate recreationally harvested oysters, which shall be tagged on the same day of harvest in the manner prescribed in subsection (4) of this section for commercially harvested oysters or by regulation of the department.

     (6)  The department shall assess and collect a shell retention fee for the shells taken from waters within the territorial jurisdiction of the State of Mississippi as follows:

          (a)  Commercial and recreational harvesters - Fifteen Cents (15˘) per sack paid to the department on the day of harvest;

          (b)  Initial oyster processor, dealer or factory first purchasing the oysters - Fifteen Cents (15˘) per sack paid to the department no later than the tenth day of the month following the purchase, on forms submitted by the department;

          (c)  Commercial harvesters transporting their catch out of the state - Fifty Cents (50˘) per sack paid to the department on the day of harvest, in addition to the fees paid in paragraph (a) of this subsection; and

          (d)  Commercial harvesters not selling their oysters to a Mississippi dealer - Fifteen Cents (15˘) per sack paid to the department on the day of harvest, in addition to fees paid in paragraph (a) of this subsection.

     Funds received from the shell retention fee shall be paid into a special fund in the State Treasury to be appropriated by the Legislature for use by the department to further oyster production in this state, which includes plantings of oysters and/or cultch materials.

     (7)  During open seasons, oysters may be taken only by hands, tongs and dredges.

     (8)  Vessels licensed under Section 49-15-46 may keep in whole, for personal consumption up to thirty-six (36) blue crabs (portunidae family), per day.  This exemption for personal consumption does not apply to fish or crabs that are otherwise illegal to possess or catch.

     SECTION 22.  Section 49-15-47, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     49-15-47.  (1)  It is unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to discharge solid or human waste from any vessel while the vessel is used to harvest or transport oysters in the marine waters of the state.

     (2)  Each vessel used to harvest or transport oysters is required to have an approved functional marine sanitation device (MSD), portable toilet or other sewage disposal receptacle designed to contain human sewage.  The approved marine sanitation device (MSD), portable toilet or other sewage disposal receptacle shall:

          (a)  Be used only for the purpose intended.

          (b)  Be secured while on board and located to prevent contamination of shell stock by spillage or leakage.

          (c)  Be emptied only into an approved sewage disposal system.

          (d)  Be cleaned before being returned to the vessel.

          (e)  Not be cleaned with equipment used for washing or processing food.

     (3)  The use of other receptacles for sewage disposal may be approved by the department if the receptacles are:

          (a)  Constructed of impervious, cleanable materials and have tight-fitting lids; and

          (b)  Meet the requirements listed in subsection (2).

     (4)  The * * * commission department shall promulgate administrative penalties for violations of this section, which may include, but not be limited to, revocation of the license of the oyster vessel for up to one (1) year for the first offense, revocation up to two (2) years for the second offense, and permanent revocation for the third offense.

     (5)  Upon issuance of a citation for a violation of this section, the vessel shall be removed from the oyster reef and any oysters on board the vessel shall be confiscated and disposed of by the department.  The vessel shall not be permitted to harvest from any * * * public state-owned or private reefs until the vessel is properly equipped as determined by an inspection by the department.

     SECTION 23.  Section 49-15-39, Mississippi Code of 1972, which regulates tonging reefs and prescribes certain criminal penalties related to tonging reefs and Section 49-15-40.1, Mississippi Code of 1972, which authorizes the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources to conduct a pilot program for bottom land leasing for oyster production in waters adjacent to Hancock County, are hereby repealed.

     SECTION 24.  This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.