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November 14th, 2018
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.
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“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.
November 1st, 2018
Interview by Kelly Groce
Where are you from?
I was born in Katy, Texas in 1955 and graduated from Katy High School in 1974 where I played football, basketball and baseball. I was All District offensive and defensive in football and baseball.
My love of sports and a strong work ethic helped me be elected in football to the All Greater Houston Team as a DB for 3 years. In baseball, I still hold the season records for RBI and Home Runs at Katy High School with a wood bat set in 1973 – 4 HR, 25 RBI in 18 games.
Tell us about your journey that led to the design and success of the Rockport Rattler® and now the Texas Rattler™.
My strong desire to help others catch fish and enjoy the bounty that mother nature has to offer has set the foundation of my fishing journey. These two things set in motion my invention of the rattling jig-head invention back in 2003.
First, I wanted a lure that would help my young kids catch fish off the pier without me having to buy live shrimp all the time. With a pier at my condo, they could fish every day or night, and that got expensive.
Second, as a guide depending on bait stands for live bait to catch fish and competing with other guides at 5 a.m. in the morning for live croaker or shrimp got old real fast. So I set out to invent a lure that could contend with live shrimp, croaker or fin fish. Fish have ears and can hear just like you. They are called otoliths. And, just like you, if they hear a familiar sound they will come check it out – just like you do when you hear a knock on your door.
Rattles in corks and topwater lures were proven to be effective at producing fish over the years. The rattling cork helped me make a living with live shrimp on guided trips – that rattle sound worked! They got fish to come to the surface or that area and eat the shrimp suspended under the rattling cork.
The deal was I wanted to take that rattling sound to go where the fish were actually “hanging out”. I wanted to take that rattle sound subsurface where the trout, reds and flounder are in their natural sanctuary and ambush points.
The result was that the rattling jig-head going subsurface at various depths to the game fishes actual ambush points and sanctuaries could actually compete with live bait.
The rattling jig-head put in the hands of novice anglers had them out-catching their friends using a silent jig-head by a solid 5-1 ratio or better when fishing in the same boat or wade/kayak fishing the same area. That ratio has proven itself to be a consistent ratio over the last 15 years from actual reports from recreational and tournament anglers.
In early 2003 I started using rattling jigs on my fishing charters right alongside the live bait my customers were using and the rattling jig-heads I invented could not only compete with the live shrimp or live croaker, but it consistently caught the bigger fish. I put the Rockport Rattler® on the market in May of 2003 and anglers all along the Texas gulf coast that started using them were amazed at the ability of this rattling jig-head to improve their fishing catch – both in numbers and size.
In 2009 I put the Quick-Lock on the Rockport Rattler® because the original did not have a locking device on it. It depended on the expansion and torque from the soft plastic expanding over the rattle chamber to hold the soft plastic on.
Some soft plastics slipped when casting and retrieving on the original, but anglers were catching more fish so they put up with that nuisance and kept using them.
The locking device has always been a problem on jig-heads and the rattling jig-head was no exception. So I invented the QuickLock in 2009 to solve the slipping problem.
The Quick-Lock was made adjustable from a stainless steel wire prong. The QuickLock SS wire would hold on the soft plastic but it sliced it from a fish bite so I made it where an angler could adjust it to get another grip. By getting another grip on their soft plastic an angler’s soft plastic would last longer.
By making the QuickLock “adjustable”, I was the first person to put an “adjustable locking device” on a jig-head and that is what earned me the US Patent US 7,614,178 B2. I sold the Rockport Rattler® original and QuickLock in 2013.
Since that time, the jobs were moved from Rockport, Texas overseas and the new owners are not making the QuickLock “adjustable” like my US Patent is designed and as a consequence it slices an anglers lure on the 1st fish bite.
I became frustrated with going through so many expensive soft plastics on the Rockport Rattler® on the now non-adjustable QuickLock not being made correctly – like anglers all across the USA. So I decided that since my 3 year non-compete agreement was over with, it was time to invent a new locking device for a rattling jig-head and put it on the market.
Right about that time, Hurricane Harvey made landfall at Rockport and left a wake of destruction and destroyed over 65% of the businesses. Of that number, only 1/3 of the businesses have rebuilt at this time.
So I decided I would come out of retirement and create a better rattling jig-head while creating some jobs for this community so the citizens can rebuild and the can city heal itself.
My new invention, the “universal” U-LOCK™, which I have put on my rattling jig-head and named the TEXAS RATTLER™ is amazing the way it “universally locks” on a soft plastic.
What makes Texas Rattler™ products unique from others?
TEXAS RATTLER™ jigs: The U-LOCK™ uses the power of friction created by rubber to hold on the rubber soft plastics. The rubber housing of the U-LOCK™ vs. rubber of the soft plastic increases the friction by 250%. Secondly, as all experienced anglers know- you leave two different colored soft plastics in your tackle box together they will exchange colors, you leave them in the sun and they will melt into each other – there is a chemical reaction going on. The U-LOCK™ does the same thing. A soft plastic’s chemicals in the lure creates a tackiness when put on the U-LOCK™ that provides an extra gripping power.
TEXAS WALKING SHRIMP™: It looks like a live shrimp and has legs that swim or “walk” through the water just like a live shrimp does, especially when used under a popping cork. It can be rigged a variety of ways on hooks or jig-heads depending on an angler’s preference or what is needed at the time.
TEXAS RATTLER™ 3D Spoons: It is the only spoon on the market today that rattles, has eyes on both sides of the spoon and uses a 3D holographic fluorescent glitter on both sides to create a realistic looking belly of a fin fish. All fin fish have a white or light colored belly that reflects UV rays from the sun. The TEXAS RATTLER™ 3D Rattling Spoon is the only spoon on the market that has these advantages for anglers to fish with.
What is your favorite Texas Rattler™ product and color to use while fishing?
My favorite TEXAS RATTLER™ jig color to throw is the 1/8 oz. chartreuse/redeye rigged with a 5” plum/chartreuse soft plastic. My favorite way to fish is with a TEXAS WALKING SHRIMP™ on a TEXAS RATTLER™ Z-MAX rattling weightless hook under a popping cork. They both consistently catch the Texas Slam for me year round.
Do you have a favorite fishing moment?
I was on a fishing charter with a client and his 10 and 8 year old sons in March of 2003. Drift fishing using live shrimp under a popping cork in 2–3 foot of water I was casting for the kids and they had reeled in several trout 16”–18” trout pretty quick and Dad was happy.
When that count grew to 6–7 trout around the same size and Dad hadn’t caught any, I saw his frustration and I knew I had to do something to help him out. He wasn’t popping his cork or keeping the slack up and was missing his fish bites. I had a rattling jig-head that I hadn’t put on the market yet on my personal rod n’ reel and knew if he threw it, he’d have to at least work it and not just let it sit. So I asked him to use it. Second cast with my rattling jig-head prototype he hooks into a 26” redfish, couple trips around the boat and I net it for him.
Now he jumps back on the bow of my 24’ Carolina Skiff with a smile, some enthusiasm and casts back out. About 5 casts later he hooks into a 27” redfish. Bigger fish, wider girth, longer fight. I finally net it and put it the box and he pounds the butt of my rod n’ reel on the deck and says, “I ain’t ever using live bait again.” That was the day I knew the rattling jig-head should be in every tackle box in the USA.
What’s your favorite place that you have fished?
Cedar Bayou Fish Pass. It is a wade angler’s paradise.
Besides fishing, what else are you passionate about?
I am very passionate about creating jobs for the community of Rockport, not just so it can rebuild after the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey, but to provide jobs for the future for its citizens to come home to after the next hurricane hits. As our lures are stocked nationwide over the coming years our mission is to create a work force of 10-15 people.