Oyster season opens after Harvey; new rules adopted

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Oct. 31, 2017 at 9:45 p.m.
Updated Nov. 1, 2017 at 8:02 a.m.

Caren Collins, a fish and wildlife technician for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, measures the size of an oyster.

Caren Collins, a fish and wildlife technician for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, measures the size of an oyster.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

Some wildlife officials hope Hurricane Harvey's downpours across Southeast Texas will only clear the plate for the struggling oyster industry instead of starving it.

Oysters filter saltwater for food.

If they get an influx of freshwater - such as the torrential rains from Hurricane Harvey - oysters stop that filtering and die in about a week.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department found that to be true in East Galveston Bay, where 51 to 100 percent of the oysters died after Harvey stalled over the region.

Lance Robinson, the deputy director of the department's coastal fisheries division, said one upside is that research has shown the influx of freshwater also kills the organisms competing with the oysters for food and leads to greater productivity in oysters years later.

He pointed to West Galveston Bay's spike in productivity three years after Hurricane Claudette dumped 42 inches of rain within a day near the city of Alvin.

"I think we'll have a decent season. It's certainly not going to be a bumper crop," he said.

But with new rules to adhere to when the season opens today, others are less optimistic than Robinson.

Wesley Blevins hasn't reopened his business, Chunky Monkey Seafood, since Harvey.

With the power out for 12 days in Seadrift, he lost almost $37,000 in inventory.

The 72-year-old isn't sure whether he wants to reopen because of that loss and because the state's new rules about oysters place some responsibility on salesmen like himself to identify oysters that are undersized. If they don't, they could be fined or jailed.

He also said the amount of money Texas collects for each sack of oysters makes it hard for the fishery to compete.

"I'm afraid that Texas oysters are not going to be in real good demand because if you can buy them $4 cheaper in Louisiana, that's where you're going to buy them," Blevins said.

This year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Department of State Health Services are opening half of the shellfish harvest areas.

It's not clear how that compares in size to past seasons because the shellfish harvest areas are different sizes.

Six shellfish harvesting areas are open in Matagorda (East and West) and Lavaca bays and one shellfish harvest area is open in San Antonio Bay.

The mortality rate for oysters in those bay systems was not available.

Robinson and his colleagues have been studying more than just oysters after Harvey.

And they've been amazed at what they've found swimming in the bays that are now more fresh than salty.

For example, they've found an unusual number of common snook in Matagorda Bay.

"It has to do with the freshwater inflow and the warm temperatures. Snook need warmer temperatures," said Julie Hagan, also of the department's coastal fisheries division.

Snook, which have long, concave snouts with jutting under jaws, are saltwater fish, but they are normally caught in the lower Laguna Madre near pilings and other underwater structures.

It's not clear how Harvey will affect fishermen directly, but like Robinson, Hagan is optimistic partly because Harvey pushed more nutrients into the bays, which will help red fish spawn.

"For fisherman, it's more infrastructure than anything else. There are counties right now that don't have boat ramps, so fishermen have to go some place new to get on the water," she said.

Related coverage

Day 1: Here comes Harvey

Day 2: Brace yourself

Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'

Day 4: 'We thought we were going to die'

Day 5: 'At least God let us live'

Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'

Day 7: 'Everybody will pull together'

Day 8: Guadalupe floods parts of Victoria

Day 9: Texas Zoo evacuates animals (w/video)

Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)

Day 11: Residents rely on families to rebuild

Day 12: For some, normal still far away

Day 13: Church offers refuge for devastated town

Day 14: Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims

Day 16: Displaced and in disarray

Day 17: Disaster for humans means catastrophe for pets

Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)

Day 19: 'It was like we had been bombed'

Day 20: Students returning to school feel weight of Harvey

Day 21: International Crane Foundation loses office after hurricane

Day 22: Ranching structures, cotton mostly damaged by Harvey

Day 23: Port Lavaca struggles back after Harvey

Day 24: Refugio: 'We're trying to get back to normal'

Day 25: Nonprofit leaves people lost after Harvey

Day 26: 'We are human beings like everyone else'

Day 27: Refugio schools find way to reopen

Day 28: Bloomington schools begin year in different classroom setups

Day 29: Methodist church serves those in need after hurricane

Day 30: Scientists measure damage to endangered species' habitat (w/video)

Day 31: Medical community feels impact of Harvey

Day 32: Harvey's speed leaves many in harm's way

Day 33: After Harvey, Seadrift couple forced out of home

Day 34: Bloomington Elementary School educates students in FEMA dome

Day 35: School districts share issues with state, US senator

Day 36: VISD students observe See You at the Pole

Day 37: Expectant family struggles after Harvey (w/video)

Day 38: Woodsboro pulls together after Harvey

Day 39: Housing options slim for displaced families

Day 40: SBA approves more than $500M in disaster loans

Day 41: Hunger greater in Crossroads post-Harvey

Day 42: 'Harvey broke me'

Day 44: Goliad baby born as hurricane swirled toward Crossroads

Day 45: Mother recalls 'scary' birth during Harvey

Day 46: Harvey devastates homeowners without insurance

Day 47: Officials have no details on housing relief

Day 48: Harvey impacts couple's 2 Victoria businesses, Rockport home

Day 49: Crews begin repair work on historic McFaddin church

Day 50: Hurricane, flood force Jaguars to make adjustments

Day 51: Texas Zoo thanks Vickers students for donation

Day 52: Seadrift women helping people affected by hurricane

Day 53: Mold creates big problem for homeowners

Day 54: Crossroads public agencies deal with FEMA challenges

Day 55: Special delivery

Day 56: Texas Gulf Coast mayors discuss Harvey aftermath

Day 57: Tenants sue after Harvey eviction

Day 58: Nonprofit directors face difficult fundraising decision after Harvey

Day 59: VISD applies for waivers to reduce Harvey burden

Day 60: Victoria's relief efforts lacked coordination, leadership

Day 61: Popular restaurant battles back from Harvey

Day 62: City looks to buy sprinkler controls for $160K

Day 63: Housing after Harvey (w/video)

Day 64: City looks to help with hefty water bills

Day 65: Men's shelter, soup kitchen closed because of Harvey

Day 66: Watt routes almost $1M to Crossroads' hungry

Day 67: Recovery group seeks members, community leaders

Day 68: Habitat volunteers help Harvey victims rebuild

Day 69: Lawmakers, counties to discuss Harvey response

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services



Powered By AffectDigitalMedia