Study shows oyster reef restoration helps economy

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

Oct. 25, 2016 at 11:06 p.m.

Mark Dumesnil, left, Bill Balboa and Julie Sullivan travel about 23 miles from Matagorda Harbor to Half Moon Reef.

Mark Dumesnil, left, Bill Balboa and Julie Sullivan travel about 23 miles from Matagorda Harbor to Half Moon Reef.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

A 54-acre oyster reef built in Matagorda Bay is benefiting more than sea life.

Half Moon Reef has become a fishing hot spot, adding $691,000 to the state's domestic gross product each year and creating a dozen jobs, according to a Nature Conservancy study released this month.

About three years ago, the reef was dead. While there was some hard material left to build upon, there were no live oysters, said Mark Dumesnil, the associate director of coastal restoration in Texas for The Nature Conservancy.

The reef was once almost 500 acres, but dredging, major changes in hydrology that altered the amount of water entering Matagorda Bay and, possibly, a hurricane left the reef defunct.

In 2013, when Dumesnil and other researchers began their effort to bring the reef back to life, their main priority was to create a habitat for fish.

"It's more than just the oysters," he said. "My goal was to restore it for all of the ecosystem services."

Oyster reefs can help clean water, provide habitat for a huge diversity of reef-dependent sea life and help reduce the amount and prevalence of harmful algal blooms by removing nitrogen from the water.

But soon Dumesnil was receiving phone calls and emails from fishing guides who were reaping benefits of their own. So, The Nature Conservancy teamed up with Texas Sea Grant to survey anglers and fishing guides to quantify the social and economic benefits of Half Moon Reef.

What they found was that guides were booking more fishing trips because of the newly restored habitat, said Andrew Ropicki, a marine economist with Texas Sea Grant.

Ropicki used a 2011 study by the National Marine Fisheries Service on average fishing trip expenditures to translate the additional trips by anglers into the reef's impact on the economy.

He concluded that the reef generated about $1.3 million in annual economic activity.

Tommy Alexander, the owner of Alexander Guide Service, said the reef has helped his business.

"There have been a lot of days we went out there and limited out on trout," he said.

But Alexander said there is a down side. Matagorda Bay is big, and Half Moon Reef is on the other side of the bay from where Alexander launches his boat. It's about a 25-mile trip from the town of Matagorda to the reef.

But, on summer days when the water is calm, it's worth it, he said.

"Some days when fishing wasn't good around Matagorda we've gone down there and basically saved the trip," Alexander said.

The Texas Sea Grant surveys also found interesting details about the anglers and fishing guides who fish Half Moon Reef.

These anglers tend to be the most avid fishermen, said Stuart Carlton, a healthy coastal ecosystems and social science specialist at Texas Sea Grant.

When you compare the anglers who fish at Half Moon Reef to those who do not, the people who go to Half Moon Reef tend to fish more often.

"It wouldn't surprise me if the more avid anglers are the ones who know about this, know how to find it, know how to fish it," he said. "Over time, it wouldn't surprise me at all if that changes."

The Nature Conservancy is lauding the economic benefits of coastal restoration identified by the study as a reason for investing in additional oyster reef restoration projects, including a 40-acre reef in Galveston Bay and a 45-acre reef in Copano Bay, north of Corpus Christi.

But Carlton pointed out that oyster reef restoration projects also have the potential to protect the coast from storm surges and sea level rise.

"In general, in Texas, there's a lot of folks who are vulnerable to storm surge and sea level rise and the cascading effects of one on the other," he said. "That's an important consideration when thinking about any sort of project."



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