Friday, December 12, 2008

The Blue Oyster Bar

They're blue because they are suffocating....thanks to Ike.

And the problem gets worse by the day. The longer the oysters are buried, the more likely they will not survive. The cold weather is helping to keep them alive, but even then, it can only do so much. But keeping the current crop of oysters alive is not the biggest concern. Preparing for next year's spawn is the biggest issue. According to Dr. Sammy Ray, Marine Biologist with Texas A&M in Galveston, spawning season is expected to occur on or around May first. When Oysters spawn, they release larvae (called sprats) to drift with the currents. These larvae can survive in the currents for about 15 days. If they do not find anything hard to attach to in that time, they die. But with the oyster reefs covered in mud and silt they have nothing to attach to. There are two classes of oyster reefs in Galveston bay: public reefs, and privately leased reefs. Those private reefs are leased to the oystermen by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. These oystermen have trawled the same leases for years in most cases. Every year in the spring, they load the shells they dredge up onto barges and tow them out to their reefs and wash the shells overboard to rebuild the oyster reef and to give the sprats plenty of hard surfaces to attach to. Over time the reefs, due to oyster dredging as well as simple subsidence due to their weight, will sink into the muck and they have to be constantly replenished to keep the reefs above the mudline. Such replenishment does not occur on the public reefs, as a result the leased reefs are some of the most productive around because they are actively cultivated and taken care of. Public reefs, because they belong to everyone, and therefore to no one, are not cultivated, and they must therefore fend for themselves.

Which brings us to the problem. There are a number of things the oystermen could do to prepare for the spring spawning season. They could use water pumps along with nozzles mounted on their dredges to wash the silt off the oyster banks, they could dump crushed concrete onto the reefs, they could dredge the silt off too. But to do any of that, first they must get permission from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as Texas Parks and Wildlife to do so. Therein lies the problem. Nobody will issue any permits to do any work unless the problem has been studied and documented. Such studies cost money and take time. TP&W has no money to spend, neither does the State. So they are moving quite slowly on studying the problem. They also don't have any money to spend helping to repair the damage. So even if TP&W could be induced to actually study the problem and come to some conclusions on how to fix it, it will be up to the major oyster houses to pay for the remediation. FEMA, MIGHT pay SOME money to help repair the damage but if they do, it won't happen until the middle of next year at the soonest. Meanwhile more and more damage to they oyster population occurs. They will study the problem to death.

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