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Reef restoration projects aim to bolster Texas’ record-low oyster population

November 14th, 2018

Oyster Restoration Project 2 JF TT 1024x686 Reef restoration projects aim to bolster Texas record low oyster population

Oyster shells along the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway. An oyster restoration project is underway in Matagorda Bay. Jerod Foster for The Nature Conservancy

By Carlos Anchondo, The Texas Tribune

November 14, 2018

With oyster populations in Texas at historic lows, The Nature Conservancy is launching two new reef restoration projects that look to appease commercial fishermen and environmentalists alike.

Using funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, the group plans to develop 110 acres of reef in Galveston Bay and Copano Bay, near Rockport. Half of each reef will be designated as a marine sanctuary where the molluscs — which have significant economic and environmental benefits — may grow. The other half will be open for commercial fishing.

Construction of the new reefs is expected to begin this winter, with harvestable portions ready as soon as 2021.

Laura Huffman, regional director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas, said these projects show a new approach to oyster reef restoration, with the compatibility of building harvestable reefs at the same time as growing a healthy habitat.

“Protecting the ecology of these reefs is essential for protecting oysters, both as a food source and for the economy of Texas,” Huffman said. “We have to pay attention to rebuilding habitat so that we’re giving back at the same time that we’re taking.”

After years of overharvesting and widespread coastal destruction during hurricanes Ike and Harvey, the number of Texas oysters has dwindled to a fraction of their former population. The Nature Conservancy estimates that as much as 50 percent of original reefs remain in the Gulf of Mexico. And in some parts of the coast, it estimates 80 percent of reefs have been destroyed.

The trend poses a big threat to the health and resiliency of the coast. Among other things, oysters can rapidly filter contaminants out of seawater.

Then there’s the economic benefit.

Oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico provide half of all oysters eaten in the United States each year – the bulk of which come from Texas and Louisiana, according to Huffman. She said the industry is valued at $43 million each year.

A recent Nature Conservancy report describes oysters as “the ecological building blocks for the Gulf Coast.”

The new reefs will give oysters a better chance at reaching adulthood, which takes about two years, said Lance Robinson, coastal fisheries deputy director at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Robinson is working with The Nature Conservancy on both of these projects. He said building reefs provides a continual source of juvenile oysters that will populate bay systems up and down the Texas coast.

Oysters, as natural filters, then improve water quality.

“An adult oyster filters up to 50 gallons of seawater per day,” Robinson said. “With these 110 acres of reef, oysters there could treat, by volume, as much water as 19 wastewater treatment plants in the City of Houston.”

Besides the oysters’ seafood value, Robinson said their stationary reefs serve as a natural barrier against hurricanes. They also are an all-service habitat for a variety of marine life. Oysters excrete something called psuedofeces, which shrimp and crabs eat as food. That carries up the food chain, as other species come in to feed.

The unique feature of these reef projects is that they are divided into sanctuary and areas for commercial harvest, Robinson said.

By building reefs, The Nature Conservancy is replicating the shell oyster larvae need to latch onto to become adult oysters. Developing oyster larvae float in the water until they find a resting place.

“We have been taking out shell for decades, with very minimal replacement,” Robinson said. “It’s hard to find shell now, so we’re mimicking Mother Nature with materials like limestone, concrete, and river rock that provide that hard substrate.”

These projects will complement recent legislative efforts to crack down on overharvesting.

Last session, state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande Valley, passed House Bill 51, which, in addition to a buyback program, created a stronger penalty for fishermen harvesting undersized oysters and authorized a fee. Instead of a Class C misdemeanor, a Class B would be issued for multiple violations. It also makes each individual on a boat responsible for violating the law.

Robinson said the penalty acts as a deterrent, with fishermen at risk of losing their license up to 30 days. Harvesting undersized oysters became a major problem after flooding in 2015 and 2016, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017, led to widespread oyster mortality. As demand rose, the price per sack went up, and some fishermen ignored the three-inch size required to harvest an oyster.

Oyster regulations require that any oyster under three inches be returned to its reef, according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife website.

Huffman, the Texas regional director of The Nature Conservancy, said her organization has deep experience with these types of construction projects, pointing to a previous reef restoration at Half Moon Reef in Matagorda Bay.

“We have seen a biodiversity boom, in a good way, in that area,” Huffman said. “Recreational fishermen are going back to Half Moon Reef. It shows that you can’t just harvest. You also have to replenish. That’s exactly what these oyster reefs are trying to demonstrate. You can do both of these things simultaneously.”

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Read related Tribune coverage

Court Backs State In Battle Over Oyster Reefs
Legal Battle Over Seabed Off Texas Coast Heats Up

“Reef restoration projects aim to bolster Texas’ record-low oyster population” was first published at by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

 

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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!”