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Cracking down on the commercial oyster industry

Posted at 8:41 AM, Jan 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-20 11:14:44-05

SEADRIFT, Texas — Just about 70 miles north of the Corpus Christi bayfront is a small town called Seadrift.

What seems like a small town with not much going on, actually has a booming industry right at their harbor.

The 6-month-long commercial oyster season begins Nov. 1. Seadrift is one of the oyster hubs along the Gulf Coast.

"There are literally oyster reefs all over this area and they're all open," Texas Game Warden Chelsea Bailey said. "So, they can just go a little bit out and make circles with their dredge and start oystering and they come in pretty quickly."

Quickly is right, as game wardens work on a stop with the first boat of the day. Other boats come into the harbor one by one, dropping off sacks of oysters. Bailey says this harbor attracts about 250 commercial oyster boats everyday.

The commercial oyster industry in Seadrift attracts labor workers from other countries coming ashore on boats from Louisiana or Mississippi. These boats can bring in up to 30 sacks of oysters a day, with about 330 oysters in each sack. Each sack runs about $40 to buyers.

It's a thriving industry for these fishermen, but there are many oysters that need to be replenished.

"At least 250 boats that are coming in, with at least 20 sacks, a day," Bailey said. "And then you've got that 6-month-long season, so that's thousands and thousands of oysters that they're bringing in."

With 330 oysters a sack, 20 sacks a boat, and 250 boats every day for 6 months, that's right under 300 million oysters during a season.

Bailey is just one of four game wardens in the area, so regulating every boat that comes in is a tough task.

One of the biggest things these game wardens are doing when looking through oysters, is checking for spat, or undersized oysters.

"It's important to put them back because if we want to continue oystering for future generations, we need to make sure people follow the rules right now," she said.

In addition to boat safety regulations and proper licenses, Bailey says many times these fishermen rush out for oysters and try to get back so quickly they don't thoroughly check all of the oysters they are bringing in.

The first boat of the day saw a few spat on some legal-sized oysters, which prompted a count of one of the sacks.

Bailey says they were cooperative but, "It shows us that they didn't take the time to clean them off with their hatchet, or something, so that they could throw them back into the water. There were more than enough that we decided we would make a count, the legal size that you can have for undersized oysters is 5%. They were at 15.4 percent."

These fishermen received citations for undersized oysters which will have to be paid through the county. If not, they will turn into warrants.

With a future of oyster mariculture coming to Texas, these game wardens say it's important to regulate this industry, especially with how busy it can get in a small area.