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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.

Newly renovated Tommy’s Restaurant Oyster Bar serves up the best in seafood

November 1st, 2018

tommys2 Newly renovated Tommy’s Restaurant Oyster Bar serves up the best in seafood

By Rick Clapp

ttollett Newly renovated Tommy’s Restaurant Oyster Bar serves up the best in seafood

Tommy’s owner Tom Tollett

Tommy’s Restaurant Oyster Bar is, and has always been, synonymous with the finest quality oysters, seafood, wine and spirits. A favorite among the NASA elite crowd, the eatery has been serving the entire Clear Lake community for 24 years.

The restaurant’s owner, Tom Tollett, is known for his attention to detail and the quality and has successfully engineered and remodeled the restaurant every few years. The newly remodeled Oyster Bar is simply stunning!

The new renovations have a very modern, panache feel with artistic overtones. The style of art displayed represents the many colors and tranquility found in Galveston Bay. The renowned Marjorie Slovack, a carriage trade interior designer, successfully developed a contemporary look that exudes a classy, yet relaxed atmosphere and ambience.  Futhermore, RBL construction transformed Slovack’s gorgeous design into reality.

Tom Tollett is a native Louisianian from Baton Rouge, Lafayette. He collaborates with his talented team of chefs and creates a diverse selection of fresh seafood and steaks to be enjoyed by his patrons.

His authentic Louisiana recipes have been perfected and developed over the past 42 years, encapsulating a story of culture and flavor from the best of Creole and Cajun seafood.

“There are two distinct types of cuisine found in Louisiana,” Tollett says. The popular Cajun style is pure country with simplistic flavors and a variety of vegetables and peppers. On the other hand, Creole style is influenced by the city with regional spices and savory seafoods, often smothered in rich creams.”

Tommy’s Restaurant Oyster Bar consistently ranks among one of the best seafood restaurants in both Harris and Galveston County. Not only do they cater to their loyal customer base, but also offer accommodations for private parties, corporate events and special occasions.

The chefs take great pride in serving dishes and entrees of the upmost quality. The bartenders and wait staff, like their boss, pay attention to detail and customer service.

One of Tom’s major passions is to educate the community and organizations on the importance of harvesting and farming oysters sustainably, and protecting this rich resource of Galveston Bay. Tommy’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar implements sustainability in their company with the help of local businesses. Tollett works closely with the Galveston Bay Foundation to help build new oyster reefs. He has served for many years on the Board of Directors.

“This restoration project helps build valuable ecosystems for many marine organisms,” Tollett said of the Galveston Bay Foundation’s efforts.

“Oysters filter 50 gallons of water per day and keep Galveston Bay clean and safe. Oyster reefs also create a buffer from the damaging effects of storm surges and flooding. Since 2011, over 250 tons of recycled oyster shells have helped revitalize the bay instead of becoming waste in landfills. Tollett wants his customers to know the importance marine conservation. He is integrally involved in the sustainable seafood movement to keep our waterfront community a gorgeous, elegant place to live. Their goal as a company is to protect our precious Galveston Bay through oyster conservation efforts and to provide the freshest, highest quality seafood and cuisine.

Try Tommy’s Restaurant Oyster Bar for your next culinary experience. Enjoy the smashing new renovations and modern ambiance. For reservations, call 281-480-2221 or visit them online at www.tommys.com. They are located at 2555 Bay Area Blvd., Houston, TX 77058.

Blueprint for the Great American Dream

September 6th, 2017

prestige oyster Blueprint for the Great American Dream

Lisa and Raz Halili of Prestige Oysters.

The story of Prestige Oysters

By K. Pica Kahn

halilis Blueprint for the Great American Dream

Johnny and Lisa Halili.

It is a love story,  and a story of the American dream. Johnny Halili, a little boy in Albania, never dreamed he would be an oyster mogul in the U.S. In the 1970s, coming from his home country to Chicago, he began his American work life in a car wash. Drifting from job to job, he heard from his cousin that there was work in Louisiana; so off he went.

Working on a boat for the first time, he was a deckhand and worked very hard for years. Eventually he bought his own oyster boat, the Lady Katherine, and that is when his successful American dream life began.

Prestige Oysters is a private family run business which continues with his best deckhand Lisa, who later became the love of his life and his wife. Working through all kinds of weather, they never gave up their dreams. The couple are now joined by their son Raz in this family owned and run business. The company has two full-time processing plants providing market for over 100 boats from Texas to Louisiana and Maryland.

The family was able to increase their business with the acquisition of the Quintus 350L high-pressure processing machine and CryoQuick tunnel to process oysters. In 2013, the company acquired Joey’s Oyster Company’s state of the art facility with HPP technology in Amite, Louisiana.

Rescue Bae

Raz Halili took to the flooded streets after Harvey to rescue people and animals alike. He has gained national attention after one of his rescue photos went viral. He has been affectionally dubbed ‘Rescue Bae.’

“HPP is one of the most clean and advanced food processing technologies. It is the size of a small room,” said Raz. “It does 1,200 oysters at a time in high pressure. We buy from other people, and we have our own boats. We also buy from independent contractors from South Texas up to Maryland. Oysters are a very popular appetizer. They are a delicacy – a romance between ocean and man ”

The High-Pressure process is a food processing method using water and elevated pressures to achieve consumer desired goals.  In 1990s, HPP emerged as a method of processing food, but not until the 21st century was it applied to seafood.

The advancements in HPP technology over recent decades have proved this method of food processing is of the highest quality. From fresh juice to meats and seafood, HPP neutralizes listeria, salmonella, E. coli and other deadly bacteria. Their Treasure Band oysters have undergone our High Pressure Process which reduces the Vibrio Vulnificus and Vibrio Paraheamolyticus to non-detectable levels.

The idea for the purchase of the multi million dollar machine was that of the father, according to Raz.

“He really saw the value in it, and so we bought one, and it has been a great asset for us.”

According to his mother Lisa, Raz took the business to a new level, when he approached the giant Sysco Foods.

“He was just this kid with an idea, and he made it happen,” said the proud mom. “We would have never even thought of it, but after college he came on the sales side of the business and this was his venture, and he took a chance and did it for us. It made all the difference. We are very proud of him. We were just simple wholesalers, and he took us to a whole new level.

Like his father before him, the son now 31, had a vision of where he wanted to take the company.  After pitching the idea to the seafood director at the time, he felt confident this was a program with a story behind it that could sell.

“We were able to supply a year-round supply of oysters at a competitive price, and we are the first ones to have a corporate level oyster program at Sysco,” said Raz. “It was a multimillion dollar investment, but we always want to change, grow and push our company to greater highest.”

Although the idea and the execution was the son’s idea, he says he learned so much from his father, from whom he got his work ethic.

“He taught me the meaning of hard work and dedication, always preaching to never take anything for granted, to help others and stay loyal to the ones who have helped you along the way. My family and I have a great appreciation of living in a free country, where you can fulfill your wildest dreams. Enjoy working hard and it will pay off.”