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Misho’s Oyster Company

September 6th, 2017

mishodock Misho’s Oyster Company

How Croatian native Misho Ivic built an oyster empire on the Gulf Coast

By K. Pica Kahn

misho Misho’s Oyster Company

Misho Ivic

Misho Ivic, owner of Misho’s Oyster Company, one of the three largest oyster producers in Texas, didn’t start out in Texas or in the oyster business. Originally from Croatia, Ivic’s father, an engineer and a professor, told him he needed to leave his homeland for a better life in the U.S.

“When I was 11, he said, ‘this is not a country for you,’”said Ivic. “‘Go to America, but get an education first.” He had been asked to join the communist party three times and refused. He wanted a better life for me. My father was raised by the Franciscan monks after his mother died when he was a child, and he was suppose to be a monk. Someone in our family had been a monk for 300 years.”

But life had other plans for the father. Speaking five languages, his father was one of a few people who could communicate with Yugoslavian/Croatian business people, so that and his work as an engineer helped him support his family in style. He was sent to South America where he was able to earn a good deal of money and upon his return, he was asked to be a professor. So the son also went to university to become an engineer.

He got a job in the oyster industry making $20 a day as a deckhand on an oyster boat. The second year, Ivic bought his first oyster boat, a 50-foot boat for $8,000. As his own boss, he had job security, couldn’t get fired and learned the trade. Without finishing his degree, he came to this county at the age of 32 and finished his education at the University of New Orleans as a mechanical engineer in 1976 after working for over two years in Croatia in the oyster industry.

“I was advised by a friend to go to Texas and buy an oyster lease, which I did,” said. “I came to Texas and in 1977 I bought three leases. My dad said you need to work as an engineer, so I did that too.”

He worked designing several boats and equipment. He was also involved in designing some conveyers for oysters. He now had eight boats and six leases producing 420 acres of oysters.

“In 1983, I went to work as a mud engineer making $54,000 a year as an engineer and making $120,000 in oysters. I was married by that time and had four kids, and I’m still with the same woman 45 years later.

“That was the last time I ever worked for anyone again. I had the oyster business, and I never went back to engineering. I decided we needed to buy a dock.”

However, the property he wanted in San Leon was $150,000 and he couldn’t afford it. But after Alicia, the owner went down to $50,000 and Misho had his docks.

He now has seven docks, he owns four and leases three. With six children, all but two of them work in the family business living within 15 miles of each other from League City to San Leon. They are all hard workers, he said, and they all seem to adore their father. The feeling is mutual, he says. The family’s closeness and devotion to both the family and the business helps, they believe, to make them successful.

“People can feel how much we care,” said daughter Annie. “I think it even makes our oysters taste better,” she jokes.

Emily, is a teacher in Austin and Kathy is in Croatia, involved in real estate and is a good mother. Annie, is in business with dad. Michael is his right-hand man, while Annie and Joy work in the oyster business in administration. Francis is a mom with three kids. Unlike some families they get long well and spend a lot of time together.

“I love my family and I love oysters. I eat them almost every day,” he said. “I like Gilhooley’s restaurant for oysters. I liked them so much, I bought the restaurant recently. Oysters need brackish water; part saltwater and part freshwater. Gilhooley’s make them with Parmesan cheese and charbroils them. They are delicious.

“Our oysters are not processed, have no hormones or preservatives, and they are pure as can be and very good for you. In countries where they eat a lot of oysters, there is almost no diabetes or heart disease and they attribute that to the oysters. They help blood move throughout the body. That is why they are thought of as an aphrodisiac.”

Misho’s Oyster Company is among the top three oyster companies in Texas although they sell all over the country from Texas to Virginia and Maryland. Half are sold in Texas.

“I am very proud of the company, but all my life, I have been riding a roller coaster. I never feel secure,” he said. “You never know when everything can change. If I have to, I can always go back to working on the boats, but not for $20 a day. No more deckhand for me. This time I will be the captain!”

Oyster Gardening

January 3rd, 2017

bayou vista oyster Oyster Gardening

Bayou Vista Resident Jeannie Kidwell pulls up her oyster bags with Galveston Bay Foundation’s Haille Carter and Michael Neibuhr. Photo: www.stockyard.com

Residents hang bags from their docks to spawn bi-valves

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

Good things happen over wine, and in this case, it was oyster gardening.  At a Wine Social last Spring, Bayou Vista resident Chris Roper suggested to her neighbors that they collectively cultivate oysters, right from their docks.  It’s a program that Galveston Bay Foundation started in 2010, and has been doing with success in Kemah and San Leon.

Fourteen residents signed up to help, and in June, they gathered at the Roper’s driveway on Blue Heron Drive to create the 5-pound bags.  In all, they assembled 25 bags.  Again, wine was the elixir. “We were bagging with oyster gardening in one hand and wine in the other,” says Chris.

With Galveston Bay’s oyster population at an all time low, beset every two years by silt, storms, low salinities or high salinities, Galveston Bay Foundation is enlisting communities to spawn their growth and shore up subsiding land.

Bayou Vista’s tightknit bay community is a perfect setting to try out the nursery program.  At the intersection of I-45 and Hwy 6 near Galveston, it’s built around a series of residential canals fed by Highland Bayou.  On the community’s southeast boundary lies a wetland fed by West Bay.  Residents hung bags from their docks both on the bayou-canal side and the wetland side to see where the oyster larvae, spat, would take hold starting in June.

•••

Six months later, on this last day of November, it’s time to collect the bags, check for spat, and move the bags to an oyster bar breakwater so they can mature.  We’re at the Roper’s residence, it’s a brilliantly clear afternoon, and the folks from Galveston Bay Foundation are curious to see what’s inside two ice chests at the Roper’s front door.  Hallie Carter, Galveston Bay Foundation’s Habitat Restoration Coordinator, and Michael Neibuhr, Program Technician, open the chests and remove the wet towels covering bags that neighbors have dropped off.  One bag, hung in the canal, shows no spats; the other, hung in the wetland, is full of spats.  Commenting on that neighbor’s results, Chris says, “We’ve had very little influx.  I’m not surprised that our water in the canal was not absolutely full of silt.  It was dark brown.  You couldn’t see anything.”

Unlike Chesapeake Bay, where oyster gardening has been going on for years, it’s not legal to seed oysters here.  In Texas, it has to happen naturally.  So, if communities want to build oyster populations, they have to set their bags in optimum conditions.  This first year at Bayou Vista is a telling example for future sites.

Jeannie Kidwell has just returned from Christmas shopping for her grandkids when she comes to her dock to help pull up her half-year effort.  “I was a Foster Parent,” she says.

Haille and Michael open her bags and the others on the Roper’s dock, sorting the shells, looking for spats.  “I’m amazed at what I see,” says Haille.  She’s finding spat on every 10 oysters.  Some shells are covered with three or more spat.

oyster spat Oyster Gardening

That’s a spat! The oyster gardening program is designed to spawn new oysters each year.

It will take two years for this spat to grow to the legal 3-inch-size oyster for harvesting.  But these will never be harvested.  Today they’re going into restricted waters off Galveston Bay Foundation’s 449-acre Sweetwater Preserve.  There, the oysters will build a breakwater for land quickly eroding at a rate of two feet each year.  The waters at the edge of this Galveston Island preserve connect to Bayou Vista’s wetland nursery.  “When we transport spat, we have to keep them in the same sub-bay system,” says Haille.  And, in this case, it’s West Bay.

The evening is closing in when we arrive at the Sweetwater Preserve to deposit the bags.  Near the water is a tall pile of oyster shells, a curing site for those collected from nearby restaurants.  So far, six Bay Area restaurants participate in the shell-recycling program.  They’ve been given 32-gallon collection bins that Galveston Bay Foundation retrieves and brings to the curing site on a weekly basis.  Michael led that effort for most of last year. “I’d visit Tookie’s the most, about three times a week,” he says.

Shells at the curing site will go into the 5-pound bags for the gardening program.  They also make up the 35-pound bags that form this and other breakwaters.  Since 2011, the program has collected 570 tons of shells.

As they set the bags in the reef, Haille talks about how the program will expand to Galveston Island in the next year.  “We‘ll partner with Gaidos and Cajun Greek, and continue our partnership with Texas A&M-Galveston with students picking up shells at those recycling sites and taking them to the curing sites.”

Oyster gardening is easy for families to do with their kids, and it’s a good way for kids to connect to their eco-system.  To get involved, contact:

Emily Ford | eford@galvbay.org

www.galvbay.org/get-involved/volunteer

Oysters in Peril

August 30th, 2016

By Janice Van Dyke Walden | Photography by Jim Olive

oliveoysters Oysters in PerilIt’s just after peak growing season for Eastern oysters in Galveston Bay, but on this day you wouldn’t know it.  When the field team and scientists with Texas Parks and Wildlife conduct a normal, random dredge sampling at dawn, the results are anything but normal.

In her orange-gloved hands Coastal Fisheries Technician Claire Iseton holds three empty oyster shells.  The few oysters that do come up in the basket are black and lifeless.  Coming up empty within site of Kemah’s famous seafood boardwalk where oysters are on the menu from November through April 30 is not a good sign, but it’s a trend that’s been deepening since 2000, when oysters large enough for the market suddenly plummeted and have been on a steady decline since.

What it takes

There’s no telling the age of the live and dead oysters dredged up this morning, but what the team does know is that it takes about two years for a spat to become a mature oyster.  And, the bay’s once prolific oysters reefs just haven’t had enough time to recover before they are dealt another blow.

Cattle-crossing prolific

Over 50 years ago, oyster reefs in Galveston and surrounding bays were so common that the coastal roads were paved with oyster shells.  Over a century ago, before roads and railroads, a natural oyster reef linked both sides of Galveston Bay.  So prominent was this reef that, given a stiff north wind and a low tide, cattle crossed the bay on this ridge.

Blow-by-blow, every two years now

Galveston Bay used to account for 80% of Texas’ harvested oysters.  Today, that number is more like 40%.  Although the counts have been in decline for over 20 years, it has stepped up in the last eight years with a major setback every two years.  In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit, covering nearly half the oyster beds of Galveston Bay with smothering silt.  The situation in East Bay, behind Bolivar’s Peninsula, was worst: over 80% were silt-covered from the storm.  Then in 2010, the lack of fresh water due to the drought sent salinity rates soaring, exceeding what oysters could live on.  The next year, 2011, oysters were hit by the Red Tide, and then, back-to-back, last year and this year, excessive rains flooded the bay with freshwater, beyond the oysters’ capacity to survive. According to TPWD’s Fisheries Biologist Christine Jensen, the bay’s average salinity for this July was ”getting closer to normal, but still low at an average of 11.5 parts per thousand.”

Pressures all around

Add to these natural pressures, there’s the human pressure: more people live in Texas than 50 years ago, and there’s more demand to enjoy oysters at the table.   Fishermen are pressured to harvest the very material that might provide the future harvest.  And, they can get a good price for it.  In 2014, a sack of oysters commanded $35, up $20 from 1993.  Given current low harvest counts, this year’s price may well be that, or higher.

oliveoysters2 Oysters in Peril

Claire Iseton inspects an oyster sampling on TPWD’s vessel, the Trinity Bay, at a reef within sight of the Kemah Boardwalk.

Recovery, Restoration, Intervention

It’s unknown just how much of Galveston and the surrounding bays are covered with oyster reefs.  The last complete mapping survey was done 21 years ago by Eric N. Powell who tapped the bottom of the bay with a pole to pinpoint reefs.  His research on the Eastern oyster continues.  Sophisticated technology like hydro-acoustics and side scan imagery has been useful for mapping specific losses, like in the aftermath of Ike, but the application for the whole bay is considered time consuming.

In the meantime, man’s efforts to recover the losses seem like a drop in the bucket.  Since 2009, reef restoration efforts have only restored about 1/10 of what’s been lost, 1,300 acres of the bay.  And, many of those restoration sites are off limits to fishing until they can flourish.

On June 11, Galveston County Judge Mark A. Henry took the first step to help area oyster business owners get financial assistance by declaring a local disaster.  In order to get funding, oysters farmers will need a disaster declaration from the State of Texas.  The Judge is in the process of submitting a formal request to Governor Abbott for targeted legislation to address the issue.