Oyster season threatened by effects of Harvey

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Oyster fans, we have bad news.

Even before Hurricane Harvey, oyster prices are almost twice what they were ten years ago and this year could be worse.

We're ten days from the start of oyster season in Galveston Bay, but there may not be much to harvest.

Oysters need a mix of fresh and saltwater to survive. Harvey's trillion gallons of rain flooded the bay with so much fresh water, the oysters couldn't survive. Heading into the height of Galveston Bay's oyster season, the timing couldn't be worse.

"Every single oyster [is dead]," said fourth-generation oysterman Tracy Woody as he toured one of the reefs leased by his company, Jeri's Seafood, recently.

Elsewhere in the bay, it's not nearly this bad, but all those dead oysters have made the live ones pretty valuable.


"Definitely going up," Woody said. "This is the worst I've ever seen."

Which is saying a lot. Ike silted reefs over nine years ago, then years of drought let the water get too salty and then once it started raining in 2015, it seems like it hasnt' stopped raining.

Bob Stokes is the head of the Galveston Bay Foundation and had concerns about the bay's oysters even before the hurricane.

"We have to figure out what's going on and figure out how to maintain this sustainability in the long run where we will lose even more oysters and potentially lose our oyster fishery," Stokes said.

Texas oyster prices have more than doubled since 2000, while the number of oysters harvested has gone down more than 55 percent.

"Natural disasters come and go, but what hasn't changed is the attitude of the public reef fisherman and the lack of management by the state," Woody said.

Texas lags most every other oyster state in America in allowing private oyster farming - which puts a lot of pressure on public lands. Video from a few years back shows dozens of oyster boats in a race to pluck every live oyster from a million dollar state restoration project.

Dozens of boats circle in a very small area in Galveston Bay, looking for oysters.

Justin Woody

It took years to develop, but just days to pick over and even the state admits it is proof of the pressure on public reefs.

"They're mismanaging the resource," Woody said. "They're mismanaging the resource. They've been mismanaging for decades."

Texas Parks and Wildlife, which manages the bay, tells us it has new rules in place to effectively manage oysters and expects a good opening next week, especially closer to the ship channel where plenty of oysters survived with more tidal flow. Parks and Wildlife does admit that Texas has enough land to grow private space by 1000 percent, but not the legal or regulatory ability to do it now and won't for years.

"I saw some good times," Woody said. "My kids haven't, but I want my grandkids to see it."

For Tracy Woody, the fight is about survival and not just the oysters.

Do you have a story tip, idea or question for Ted Oberg Investigates? Let us know, at abc13.com/tedstips

Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.