A multi-agency law enforcement surge operation led by Texas game wardens has made a sizable dent in illegal commercial oyster harvest and possession along the coastal bend this season, netting more than 300 criminal cases. A majority of the violations were for oystering in off-limits management areas designed to protect the resource, and for possession of undersized oysters.
Operation Secure Coastal Bend consisted of two, weeklong saturation patrols conducted by Texas game wardens between Nov. 1, 2017 and April 9, 2018 in collaboration with officers from the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine, CBP Office of Field Operations, U.S. Coast Guard, Calhoun County Sherriff’s Office and the Aransas County Sherriff’s Office.
“From our inception well over a century ago, one of the original mandates for Texas game wardens has been to protect the state’s oyster resource,” said Col. Grahame Jones, Law Enforcement Director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “I am appalled that some in the oyster industry continually fail to recognize how impactful their actions are, not just relating to future commercial oyster harvests, but to the overall health of our incredibly fragile and sensitive bay systems. Texas game wardens take the protection of our oyster reefs extremely seriously and we will remain committed to this important effort.”
Armed with additional laws created by the 85th Texas Legislature to help combat the harvest of undersized oysters through enhanced penalties, law enforcement officials are now able to hold all workers on oyster boats accountable for possession of undersized oysters. Previously, only the boat’s captain was responsible for an illegal catch. New rules that took effect last November reduce the commercial possession limit of oysters from 40 sacks to 30 sacks per day, reduce the allowable amount of undersized oyster take from 15 percent to 5 percent and closed Saturday to the commercial harvest of oysters.
“Management closures are designed to protect juvenile and sub-adult oysters from harvest and fishing mortality associated with commercial fishing operations,” said Robin Riechers, TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division Director. “Left to grow, these sub-adult oysters should reach legal sizes by the beginning of the next season.”
In addition to the 300 citations, game wardens issued numerous warnings. During the operation, officers also seized one firearm with serial number removed, recovered 50 pounds of marijuana that had washed up on Matagorda Island, are investigating two cases of hunting without landowner consent, and arrested four individuals for oyster violations. U.S. Coast Guard boarding officers also identified 35 violations related to vessel crew and safety requirements.