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Bill to create commercial oyster farming still in the works

Posted at 7:47 AM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 09:13:13-05

Texas has one of the largest coastlines in the nation, but it is the only coastal state that does not have an organized commercial oyster farming industry.

Many business owners, researchers and state agencies are working together to bring this industry to the Coastal Bend. They believe the economy and environment will greatly benefit.

The Texas Sea Grant and Texas Parks and Wildlife went to oyster researcher and Chair for Marine Resource Development at Harte Research Institute of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Joe Fox in 2011 to discuss how oyster aquaculture was expanding. They were interested in its growth not only in the Gulf of Mexico but also along the East and West coasts.

This action began the start of advocacy for a commercial oyster farming industry in the state.

And after writing a proposal to the Bucket 1 Restore Act and realizing there could not be commercialization without legislation, other state agencies (such as CCA) and lawmakers became involved with the effort.

In addition to state agencies, local businesses and activists have joined in to get this bill passed through the legislature.

Vice President of Water Street Seafood Company Richard Lomax said having a commercial oyster farming industry will bring fresher oysters to the dining table across the state.

“Our vision would be to make Corpus Christi the epicenter of Texas seafood,” says Lomax. “And to be what Charleston is to the East Coast and what New Orleans is to Louisiana, right here in Corpus Christi.”

Lomax sees first-hand how hard the producers and distributors work to bring these oysters to the Texas coast.

“It’s tough, hard work to farm oysters, and they can barely scrape out a living doing it,” Lomax said. “Oyster mariculture solves that, better jobs. You can eat dinner with your family, you can harvest on a routine basis, like farming.”

At Water Street’s Oyster Bar, Lomax says they serve between 600,000 to 700,000 oysters per year.

In addition to bringing a boost to the economy, Fox believes that oysters also benefit the overall environment.

“They [oysters] do the nitrogen cycling, they also have the ability to spawn and further help build those natural reefs,” he said. “So, if you look at an oyster, there’s hardly anything you can say bad about it.”

In addition to teaching at TAMUCC, Fox is also a research scientist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center in Corpus Christi.

With that work, he has learned that oyster farming won’t hinder the fishing industry.

“It’s all about sustainability, and making this industry work with a variety of different interests,” Fox said.

Fox states that if this bill were to pass, regulations would be in the hands of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

They would set guidelines, as well as sites for the commercial oyster farms. He also says that farming oysters commercially is easier compared to many other hatcheries or farming industries.

“They’re not the most difficult thing in the world to grow either, you don’t have to run around and chase them to find them,” Fox said. “They’re there.

“They’re not difficult to grow, they’re predictable in what they do. But, there’s hardly anything they do, that’s bad.”

On Feb. 1, State Representative Todd Hunter filed HB1300.

“The oyster mariculture bill will provide a boost to tourism for the Coastal Bend,” Hunter said in a prepared statement. “It will also help our restaurants and generate more jobs for our area. Oyster mariculture is a great way to bring attention to Texas oyster farming.”

On Wednesday, the bill was first read in Austin. Its status currently shows it is still in committee.