Part of Galv. Bay could halt oyster harvest

August 24, 2009 7:28:02 AM PDT
An unwelcome reminder of Hurricane Ike threatens to smother an industry. Silt and debris left behind nearly one year after the storm could lead to a ban on some oyster harvesting in Galveston Bay.

"We need to look at oysters as the primary biological indicator of a healthy bay," said Sammy Ray, professor emeritus of marine biology at Texas A&M-Galveston.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission is expected to vote Thursday on a staff recommendation to close the east bay's public oyster reefs for two seasons. The shutdown would allow the ecologically sensitive area to recover and could last until November 2011.

The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that about 80 percent of the oysters in the easternmost part of the bay system were covered by silt and other debris after Ike hit on Sept. 13, 2008.

The parks and wildlife commission's coastal fisheries division plans rehabilitation projects, including putting hard materials, such as oyster shells and limestone, into areas so young oysters can attach and grow.

The agency has used radar to help map the bay's topography and examine submerged reefs.

"There were piles of vegetation and debris on the reefs, and these thick windows of sediment everywhere," said Bill Balboa, Galveston Bay ecosystem leader for the agency. "It was pretty amazing. No one had ever seen anything like this."

Recreational and commercial fishing are at risk at an annual economic impact estimated at more than $650 million.

Shrimping fared much better than oysters after Ike swamped parts of the Galveston area.

"Some shrimpers were fishing again within a couple of weeks of the storm," said Lance Robinson of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's coastal fisheries division. "Oysters are hugely significant to the bay system, and not just for the value of their commercial fishery."

The reefs provide food and shelter for almost all species of bay life, experts say.

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