Evaluation of Oyster Aquaculture for Stabilization of the Texas Oyster Industry

Principal Investigator

This project is awaiting NOAA Federal Fisheries Disaster Relief Program funding

Hurricane Harvey proved to be Texas’ and the USA’s most expensive natural disaster, resulting in approximating $160 billion in damages. Major economic drivers and activities along the Texas coast were severely damaged; one of the most significantly impacted was the oyster fishery. Prior to Harvey, the oyster industry was a mainstay of coastal Texas fishing communities, contributing $20 billion in tourism dollars, $54 billion in restaurant sales, and contributing to the wages of 1.2 million workers, annually. Hurricane Harvey disrupted nearly every oyster-producing region in Texas. To improve economic conditions in coastal communities, the oyster industry must be stabilized and the best way to do so is through aquaculture.

Our proposal is to develop a semi-commercial scale research site in Matagorda Bay adjacent to the TPWD Perry R. Bass Marine Fisheries Research (Palacios, Texas) at which we will situate cages/bags containing oysters, representative of various common methods used to grow oysters in natural waters.  These methods would include: off-bottom culture (trays supported off the bottom), mid-water cages, and floating cages. The purpose of the project will be to evaluate various types of oyster aquaculture from an environmental (impact), biological (growth survival of oysters), and economic perspective. There exists considerable interest on the part of both private and public sectors in the potential for oyster aquaculture to stabilize the declining oyster fishery and improve coastal economic resilience as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Oyster cages will only be stocked with oysters derived from Matagorda Bay, itself. Cages/bags will be stocked with appropriate amounts for each type, ranging from 100 to 1000 oysters each. Culture systems will be maintained (e.g., removal of biofouling) as needed depending on season.  Oysters will be periodically evaluated for growth and survival and the site, as a whole, monitored for various environmental/water quality criteria (e.g., temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, phytoplankton, total suspended solids, total settleable solids). Placement of all structures will be completed within three months of start date, with all leases, permits, and licenses in place. Funding will help cover costs for research management of the systems and associated facility, collection of scientific data, and reporting to TPWD. Funding will cover costs associated with water quality and biological (oyster) sampling, oyster culture systems and associated infrastructure, provision of seed oysters for stocking cages, and travel to and from the site.

Ultimately, the findings from this project will be disseminated to various state agencies, conservation groups, the oyster fishing industry, through presentations at scientific conferences, publication in scientific journals, and meetings with various stakeholder groups.  This project will assist in developing oyster aquaculture in Texas and potentially alleviate fishing pressure on public reefs as well as designing a certificate program for individuals who plan on establishing their own commercial oyster farms.