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Toxic algae halts oyster harvesters

By Sara Sneath
March 29, 2014 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated March 28, 2014 at 10:29 p.m.


HOW TO HELP

If you spot wildlife affected by the oil spill, do not attempt to capture or handle it. Call 888-384-2000 to report it.

Bay systems from Matagorda to Corpus Christi closed to oystering Friday night because of high levels of a toxic algae.

The closures are unrelated to the Houston Ship Channel oil spill, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Tyrone Conner, a Matagorda Bay joint information center spokesman.

"We dodged one bullet and then got hit by another," said Curtis Miller, co-owner of Miller's Seafood in Port Lavaca.

Miller said he wasn't contacted by anyone affiliated with the oil response but has been watching reports on his own, anxious that the floating oil working its way south might come into the bay. Miller's boats oyster in the inland bays, not the Gulf, where the oil has washed up on Matagorda Island, he said.

"We were concerned about the oil spill. But it kind of passed us by. Then, we were blindsided by the algae," Miller said.

Texas Department of State Health Services closed Galveston Bay earlier this March after it found high levels of Dinophysis algae, which releases a toxin that can quickly accumulate in the tissue of oysters, clams and mussels and cause shellfish poisoning in people who eat them. The closures from Matagorda to Corpus Christi, which went into effect Friday night, come at an all-time price high for oysters.

Typically, oyster harvesters sell sacks of oysters at about $20-$22, Miller said. But he's paying $35 this season. Miller said the high prices are a result of an oyster shortage along the Gulf. There's no telling whether the bays will open back up before the oyster season ends April 30.

"Now, we're playing the waiting game. There's no knowing if there's hope in saving our season," Miller said.

Responders contracted by Kirby Inland Marine, the responsible party for the oil spill, began cleanup on Matagorda Island on Sunday, said Matt Caruso, a Matagorda Bay joint information center spokesman. Responders are performing light surface removal with rakes and shovels on the 12-mile stretch south of Matagorda State Park, where oil washed up on shore, he said.

Booms were being removed from the water Saturday and into Sunday, according to a Saturday night news release update.

An oiled common loon was found dead Friday afternoon, Caruso said. No other oiled or dead wildlife have been reported.

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