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Guest Column: Coastal Oyster Farming, a Win-Win for the Economy and the Environment

Photo: Harte Institute

John Kelley, CORPUS CHRISTI, TX

The State of Texas this month launched the oyster mariculture industry as directed by legislation authored by State Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, providing an opportunity for significant economic activity and environmental restoration along the Coastal Bend and across the state. 

Texas coastal waters suffered tremendous losses of wild oyster beds during Hurricane Harvey. Hundreds of miles of living beds were smothered by silt and fresh water inundation. Texas had been the only coastal state in the country that did not engage in cultivated oyster mariculture, forcing Texas restaurants to import farm-grown half-shell oysters from other states. The new industry along the Texas coast allows people to lease public waters to grow and harvest oysters commercially.

John Fox PhD at the Harte Institute-TAMUCC wrote, “Prior to Harvey, the oyster industry was a mainstay of coastal Texas fishing communities, contributing $20 billion in tourism dollars, $54 billion in restaurant sales, and contributing to the wages of 1.2 million workers, annually. Hurricane Harvey disrupted nearly every oyster-producing region in Texas. To improve economic conditions in coastal communities, the oyster industry must be stabilized and the best way to do so is through aquaculture.”

“The time has come for these Texas-grown oysters to be served in restaurants across this country,” Rep. Hunter said. “We have worked for years to bring oyster mariculture to Texas because the economic, enviromental and cultural benefits for our region are limitless. This will allow us to share more of the Coastal Bend with the rest of the state and country.”  

Rep. Hunter, who authored House Bill 1300 last year to bring this environmental friendly industry to Texas, will host an online symposium on this new industry from 2 to 3 p.m. September 16. The summit, also sponsored by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, will be available for the public to view at http://bit.ly/oystersummit. Meeting number (access code): 133 1267103, Meeting password: Texas (83927 from phones) 

Seen as a great small business opportunity, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently launched a website allowing the public to apply to open an oyster farm. The Department has also posted an FAQ page to provide more information about this new Texas industry. 

Oyster mariculture operations will be sited in areas ensuring compatibility with the Texas coastal marine environment. Methods of culture were evaluated by the Harte Institute and the best off bottom environmental practices and site restrictions are prescribed. Including prohibition of bottom cages and dredging.Unlike other forms of mariculture, the oysters grown in Texas water will rely entirely on naturally occurring microalgae for growth. 

A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Oysters act like the ocean’s kidneys, filtering out pollutants and leaving behind clean water. They remove chemicals like nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus, which get into the ocean from industrial activity. A 2014 Stanford University found that, within 72 hours, the shellfish had removed up to 80% of some contaminants, including herbicides, pesticides, and flame retardants from polluted waste water.

An added benefit is the shucked oyster shells are reseeded with larvae and deposited in our bays, rebuilding lost wild oyster reefs. This not only restores natural oyster, shrimp and fish habitat, it gives valuable protection against waves and flooding during storms.

“Texas is renowned not just for our abundance of natural resources, but for our ability to responsibly harness these resources to the benefit of our citizens,” said Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. “I want to congratulate Representative Hunter on the passage of his legislation that allows oyster mariculture in Texas. Oyster beds are critical to maintaining healthy water circulation in our coastal waters. HB 1300 embodies the Texas spirit of economic independence and environmental sustainability.” 

“The Texas Cultivated Oyster Mariculture Industry truly represents the collaborative efforts of Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Harte Research Institute, The Coastal Conservation Association, The Texas Restaurant Association, The Coastal Bend business community and of course State Representative Todd Hunter,” said Brad Lomax, owner of Water Street Restaurants in Corpus Christi. “Two years ago Rep. Hunter charged our ‘Grow Texas Oysters’ group with the mission of bringing back the Coastal Bend Oyster….and to do so in a way that creates economic opportunity, preserves environmental sustainability, and enhances the recreational/tourism experience. Under Todd’s leadership and with his guidance, The Texas Cultivated Oyster Mariculture program has put us on the path to ‘mission accomplished!’”

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