“We all have a common goal – and that is the good of the bay, the good of the reefs and the oysters. How we get there is the source of a difference of opinion,” says Curtis Miller, owner of one of the last family-owned seafood stores in Crossroads.
For Curtis Miller, oysters are one of the most versatile meals, saying you can fry them, boil them, barbecue them, or just eat them raw straight from the bay. While a tasty treat for many, some oysters are more than that, they’re a livelihood, and for Miller, it’s a family tradition and something he’s known his whole life.
“At a young age, probably when I was 10, when the tide was going out, I was out there picking up oysters and shucking them with the old hickory butcher’s knife for neighbors and friends and all that . I was alone in the oyster business quite young,” says Miller.
Miller has owned and operated his seafood store, Miller’s Seafood in Port Lavaca for over 30 years, selling locally caught shrimp and fish, but his most popular item – oysters.
But after the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife shut down the majority of oyster bays, oyster production plummeted. Miller worries about the effects this will have on the industry. His oyster shucking house would normally have been full of workers and oysters, now due to extremely low levels of oyster production it has stood empty, along with the port throughout the past season of Oysters.
“They will come back on their own. Oysters are very resilient. They don’t need this micromanagement that Parks and Wildlife is trying to put on the reefs. They will take care of themselves, and anglers are doing their part to help the reef grow, keeping them cultivated,” says Miller.
This is the point of contention – whether to keep the bays open or closed, and Miller says in his experience with oyster farming that fishing and growing the berries actually helps the berries thrive.
“Oysters have to be farmed. Just like a farmer has to grow his crop in the field, we have to grow those oysters grown in the berries because they just have a certain lifespan. Before you know it, they start regenerating. We don’t agree with their management plan to leave the reefs dormant and that’s a bad thing in our view,” says Miller.
When dormant oysters are more susceptible to disease, he says, and with oysters filtering about 50 gallons of water a day, if they die, they in turn can cause the death of a berry.
Zachary Olsen is the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife’s chief ecosystem officer for Aransas Bay and has helped manage oysters all over the coast and says the closures are necessary for the future of oyster populations. oysters and that fishing in the bays removes the natural habitat that oysters need to grow.
“What a dredge really does is remove the oysters and remove the structure from those reefs and it’s really that structure that other oysters settle on, that other oysters need to survive and grow. “, explains Olsen.
Oysters need the right environmental conditions to thrive, and after heavy rains in recent years, salinity levels have been too high in some areas, causing oysters to die and prompting the department to close bays due to low levels. market size oysters in some bays. .
“At the start of the season we ended up closing a lot of areas to harvest to start with which really focused a lot of that effort and then led to us continuing to check and close areas as they kind of fell. comes out below this closing threshold. the number of market-size oysters,” says Olsen.
Olsen said this has happened in the past, but this year was one of the worst, which is why all but 2 of the state’s 27 harvest areas have been closed, concentrating all oyster farmers in the remaining bays, compounding frustration and sometimes leading to overfishing. One bay that could be permanently closed is Mesquite Bay, due to its fragile ecosystem and the important role oysters play there.
“Just because of the life history of many different estuarine organisms that breed in the gulf and move through the estuary, the habitats that are in close proximity to these gulf passes can be really valuable. So because of this increased pressure from oysters in this area and this unique and valuable habitat, we have proposed to permanently close this area to harvesting,” says Olsen.
Miller says, however, that mother nature knows best.
“God knew what he was doing when he created oysters and estuaries. Fish are the same way, fish lay millions of eggs each year and man will never be able to replicate what nature is already doing,” says Miller.
Miller won approval to put oyster shells back in the bays, to help rebuild the reefs, a reminder that those for and against the closures have a common goal, to see oyster bays thrive.
“We all have a common goal – and that is the good of the bay, the good of the reefs and the oysters. How we get there is the source of a difference of opinion,” says Miller.
Texas Parks and Wildlife is creating a committee bringing together stakeholders from the industry, research and conservation side, business side, fishers and oyster farmers, and community members to allow everyone to sit down to the table to find some sort of solution or compromise.
November 1 is the deadline, the same day as oyster season and bays reopen in Texas.
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