Ben Bailey file photo

In this file photo from 2014, Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden Ben Bailey performs a random check of oysters bagged and stacked on the deck of a boat as fishermen return to the docks in Seadrift.

More than 140 cases of illegal oystering in Calhoun and Aransas counties were targeted last week by Texas game wardens, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department news release.

Game wardens in the two counties led a multi-agency law enforcement surge operation, called Operation Reef Safeguard I, targeting illegal commercial oyster harvest and possession along the coastal bend.

The operation consisted of patrols by game wardens Dec. 10-14 in collaboration with law enforcement officers with the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and Aransas County Sheriff’s Office.

Many of the violations were for possession of undersized oysters that the state’s reef ecosystem requires to be left alone for sustainability and long-term health, according to the news release.

In addition to the more than 140 criminal cases, game wardens also issued numerous warnings. During the operation, officers also made arrests for multiple penal code violations. U.S. Coast Guard boarding officers identified more than 25 violations related to vessel crew and safety requirements.

“Since 1895, Texas Game Wardens have proudly protected the state’s oyster resources,” said Col. Grahame Jones, Law Enforcement Director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Texas game wardens consider the protection of our natural resources, including oysters and the reefs they create, to be a priority. Texas game wardens take the protection of our oyster reefs very seriously, and we will remain committed through increased patrols. Additionally, we will proactively enforce laws regarding oystering in polluted waters with a zero-tolerance approach and will arrest those who place consumers’ health at serious risk.”

Because of laws created by the 85th Texas Legislature to help combat the harvest of undersized oysters through enhanced penalties, law enforcement officials are now able to hold all workers on oyster boats accountable for possession of undersized oysters.

Previously, only the boat’s captain was responsible for an illegal catch. New rules that took effect November 2017 reduce the allowable amount of undersized oysters taken from 15 to 5 percent and provided an enhanced penalty for the possession of undersized oyster to an arrest offense, according to the news release.

Some of the violators intercepted had cargo consisting of up to 35 percent undersized oysters. With the enhanced penalties for possessing undersized oysters, Operation Reef Safeguard produced three arrests for possession of undersized oysters, third or more offense, enhancing it to a Class B misdemeanor. Game wardens also observed two oyster boats oystering in restricted waters, Class A misdemeanor violations resulting in five arrests.

“It is critically important to protect our oyster reefs from illegal harvesting of small oysters,” said Robin Riechers, TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division Director. “Protecting harvest of small oysters ensures that our reefs stay productive and protects next year’s marketable-size oysters.”

Recommended For You

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Transparency. Your full name is required.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article. And receive photos, videos of what you see.
Don’t be a troll. Don’t be a troll. Don’t post inflammatory or off-topic messages, or personal attacks.

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.

To subscribe, click here. Already a subscriber? Click here.