- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) - State officials are recommending parts of Galveston Bay be closed to oyster harvesting amid concerns that immature mollusks are being removed and reefs are still recovering from Hurricane Ike.

An increasing number of fishermen have been caught illegally harvesting undersized oysters, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department officials. To address the problem, the department is planning to close three of the bay’s major oystering areas this weekend and stopping continued dredging that endangers the reefs.

“We’re in a perfect storm,” said Lance Robinson, who oversees the oyster industry for the department. “The production is decreased, but the demand is high. So the incentive for taking in illegal undersized oysters is huge, but it means we have to shut down the reefs.”

Galveston Bay is Texas’ largest source of oysters and nearly the last place where the wild mollusks are still dredged, the Galveston County Daily News (https://bit.ly/1qw8dMF ) reported. But dredging in the bay has decreased since 2000, from providing 90 percent of the oysters in Texas to 42 percent as of last year.

Hurricane Ike in 2008 caused the bay to lose 80 percent of its oyster habitats. State officials estimate it would cost about $300 million to restore them.

The department enforces regulations making it illegal to collect sacks more than 15 percent full of oysters smaller than 2¾ inches.

Game Warden Jennifer Provaznik said she and her colleagues try to be vigilant of crews that are overfishing small oysters and moving into prohibited reefs.

“They can actually wipe out an entire reef when they take the small oysters in no time,” she said. “They don’t worry about the future generations. They don’t think about next year. … That is why we are out here every day. We are trying to protect that next year.”

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Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, https://www.galvnews.com


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