THE INQUIRIES I RECEIVED about all the boats in Aransas Bay and Copano Bay were a bit overwhelming. Why so many boats? What are they doing? Where are they from?
These boats were not anglers looking for an exciting day of rod bending action. They were harvesting the rich oyster reefs that propagate in these bay systems.
Those who eat oysters get excited about the coming season for this succulent mollusk. Many, however, are deeply concerned about the harvesting of these filtering wonders.
JUST ONE oyster can filter over 50 gallons of water in a single day. In a drive over the LBJ causeway on a brisk February day, I stopped and counted the number of oyster boats within eyesight on Copano Bay. The number was over 70.
Many biologists believe the bottom dwelling/ filtering oyster is the key to the health of our estuaries. The commercial harvesting of Crassostrea virginica, the primary oyster harvested here, is a grey area, creating arguments even with the best of friends. Many articles have been written about restoration efforts and while these are commendable they, like many conservation issues, are just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s look at the facts. There are 600 commercial oyster licenses, 400 of which are active. The belief that harvesters, by law, must return all shucked shell is only 30 percent true. As of this writing the harvester has three options: return the shell to the bay waters, keep the shell creating a cultch material pile, or pay for the 30 percent or some percentage thereof.
Interestingly, cultch material is seen by law as the property of the harvester. Enter HB51. House Bill 51 was passed at the 85th Legislative session and signed into law June 12, 2017 by Governor Abbott.
It is seen by many to be the saving grace for our oyster reefs. A move in the right direction perhaps, but in my humble opinion, it places even more pressure on game wardens to enforce the maze of rules and regulations created through amendments to the original draft.
The rebuilding of oyster reefs like those in Copano Bay need to be applauded, but even as these efforts are completed, within months commercial harvest boats were harvesting within a rock’s throw of the rebuilt area.
There are meetings scheduled to address this issue, recommending closures for these areas and creating reef sanctuaries using larger benign cultch material that is not conducive for harvesting.
Many believe the commercial harvesters are from Mexico or out of state. However, after many hours researching this is just not the case. Many of the boats are from Galveston where fresh water flooding in 2015, and of course Harvey’s record rainfall, decimated the oyster colonies.
Hard working commercial harvesters are not the villain, they are going where the oysters are. Yes, there have been harvest boats from Mexico, and it’s true some from Louisiana. With hundreds of boats in our area, a few bad ones have tainted the view of oyster harvesters.
The law supports the harvesting of oysters, which does impact the health of our reefs and the water quality of our bays. Quality-wise Rockport oysters are second to none. Their taste and texture have a wide appeal, they are also the primary reason our bays teem with healthy fish populations.
Do I believe that oyster reefs in our area are being over harvested? Yes. Have I seen what a healthy reef looks like after a flotilla of oyster boats have moved through? Yes. Do I believe a higher percentage of the cultch should be returned to the exact reef from which it is extracted? Yes. Do I believe rebuilt reefs/colonies should be closed to commercial harvesting? Yes, for at least two years as it can take an oyster reef decades to recover.
Does a 30 percent return on the cultch removed (this is without the oyster) sound like a sustainable amount for our oyster reefs? No.
If the health of our estuaries is important to you as anglers don’t listen to hearsay. Investigate, research, trust in a high power and make all others bring verifiable facts. Mankind may soon learn oysters are more valuable when not eaten.
T HE MONTH OF MAY, if ever there was one, is a month for live bait. Croaker, shrimp, finger mullet, piggies, menhaden are all effective through the next six months.
Copano Bay: The mouth of Mission Bay is a good spot for reds using finger mullet free-lined. A rising tide is best here. Shellbank Reef is a good spot for trout using free-lined croaker. Fish the deeper edges of the reef.
St Charles Bay: Wades off Meile Dietrich point with croakers are good for trout and some keeper reds. This area has sand and shell mixed with soft mud. Free-lined is best. Cavaso Creek is a good area for reds using finger mullet or cut menhaden on a light Carolina rig.
Aransas Bay: Nine Mile Point is a good spot for trout using mud minnows or croakers. Keep a good distance from the Key Allegro shoreline where the deep-water transitions are. A light Carolina rig works well. Halfmoon Reef is a good spot for trout using croakers free-lined.
Carlos Bay: Pelican Reef is a good spot for black drum using live shrimp under a silent cork. This is a soft mud area so exercise caution if wading. Spalding Reef is a good spot for trout using free-lined croaker.
Mesquite Bay: Drifts across Brays Cove can produce some nice trout action using new penny-colored jerk shad or mud minnows danced along the bottom. Roddy Island is a good spot for black drum and sheepshead using popping cork and shrimp.
Ayers Bay: The east shoreline is a good spot for black drum using fresh dead shrimp on a light Carolina rig. Some trout and keeper reds may be found on Ayers Reef, with free-lined mullet the best bait.
Wades off Live Oak point is a good place for large trout using free-lined croaker. A gold and red spoon works well.
Email Capt. Mac Gable at [email protected]