Why It Matters: State fish and wildlife management agencies play an important role in conserving our nation’s public trust fish and wildlife resources for the benefit of all. For sportsmen and women, the original conservationists whose dedication to conservation led to the creation and funding of state agencies, it is important that we support efforts that are backed by the best available science to ensure that these resources, and our ability to enjoy them, are conserved for future generations. Critically, we must acknowledge situations, such as those currently present within the oyster reefs of Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres Bays in Texas, in which the ability of state agencies to open and close harvest seasons is critical to ensure the long-term health of the ecosystem.
- On October 14, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a formal letter of support for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s proposed Statewide Oyster Fishery Proclamation.
- CSF supported a similar proclamation before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in March, but the Commission opted to delay a final decision until the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department could collect additional data and stakeholder input on the proposal.
- The Proclamation proposes the closure of oyster harvest in three bays along the Texas coast due to a variety of stressors that have threatened the oyster reefs and the coastal communities they support.
On Friday, October 14, CSF submitted a letter of support for a proposed moratorium on oyster harvest in Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres Bays in Texas. This is the second time a proclamation to close these ecologically important bays to oyster harvest has been before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, who previously punted the decision to gather more data and stakeholder feedback on the proposal. Despite the additional information and stakeholder engagement, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) continues to be compelled to seek a closure of these bays to oyster harvest. The Commission will reconsider the proclamation at their November 2-3, 2022, meeting.
The TPWD is the agency best informed and equipped to make science-based management decisions regarding our public trust fish and wildlife resources in Texas. As the original conservationists, sportsmen and women have a long history of working with state natural resource agencies and support their ability to modify harvest restrictions and open or close harvest seasons based on the best available science to ensure the long-term conservation of these resources.
The oyster fisheries in Carlos, Mesquite, and Ayres Bays represent one such example in which a moratorium on oyster harvest is necessary. Recent environmental stressors including tropical storms, prolonged freshwater inflows, and drought on these bay systems have contributed to lower oyster recruitment and overall reef health. Increasing harvest pressure will only add additional stress to the oyster reef complex, and 2022 saw oyster harvest increase by more than 34% versus the previous three-year average. Collectively, these three bays represent only about 3% of Texas’ total coastal oyster habitat, and plenty of other areas remain open to harvest.
Texas oyster reefs play a critical role in estuarine ecosystem health through vital services such as critical habitat for fish and invertebrate species, shoreline stabilization, water quality improvements, wave attenuation during storms, and overall coastal resiliency in the face of climate variability. Closing the bays under consideration to oyster harvest would allow the reefs to rebuild and seed other nearby reefs. While the closure will have some short-term impacts on commercial oyster harvest, a moratorium will be beneficial to the long-term sustainability of the commercial oyster industry in Texas.
Recognizing the important role that these reefs play in Texas’ coastal ecosystem, CSF is proud to continue our support of oyster reef conservation in the Lone Star State.