Oyster men speak out against bay closures

Oyster bay closure protests happen in Austin, Texas

Protest in Austin, Texas due to oyster bay closuresAUSTIN, Texas – On Wednesday, March 23, many fishermen from across the Texas Gulf Coast region traveled to Austin for a public demonstration over the the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s proposed permanent closure of Mesquite, Ayers, and Carlos bay. According to an environmental activist named Diane Wilson, the TPWD closed reefs temporarily and permanently in Galveston, Matagorda, San Antonio, and Aransas Bays, effectively ending commercial oyster fishing in some Texas areas. As a result, this closure had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of some oyster men. The protest happened at 4200 Smith school road, while the Parks and Wildlife staff and Commissioners discussed the closures that are scheduled for a Commission vote on Thursday, March 24. The oyster men want to stop the closures, sponsored by the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance fund.

Wilson says these are the reasons oyster men are opposing TPWD proposed closure of the bays: 

  1. The closures are violating a Title V1 (Civil Rights Act of 1964) and Texas State Law. The TPWD is not ensuring full participation from the Spanish speaking oyster-men because there isn’t a Spanish interpreter at the meetings. There are only English instructions on how and when people can comment on the closures publicly and online.
  2. Failure to ensure participants with a limited English proficiency can effectively participate in a funded program (TPWD is funded by U.S Fish and Wildlife) can violate Title V1. without an  attempt to communicate with the Spanish speaking oyster men was made, no materials written in Spanish were provided to the portion of the populations of these counties that are Spanish speaking. This is discriminatory because of the frequency with which TPWD encounters Spanish speaking oyste rmen, and the importance of oyster management on the lives of these oyster men.
  3. The Texas Parks & Wildlife department failed to analyze the full economic effects closing the bays would have on the region. Every municipality is in an aproximate 80-mile radius of Mesquite, Ayers, and Carlos Bays is considered a rural community except Corpus Christi and Victoria. Wilson says the TPWD did not make a reasonable or good faith effort to analyze the effects of the proposed rules on rural communities. As a result, there was a failure to provide an Economic Impact Statement (EIS) and Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (RFA) in regards to the rural communities that will be affected and harmed by the ruling. 
  4. Failure to analyze the effects of this proposed rule on local economies. This department did not perform a local employment impact statement as required by Texas government code. An agency must determine whether a rule may affect local economies before it proposes another rule to get adopted. If it determines that it will be affect, it is required to prepare a local employment impact statement. 
  5. Another failure to evaluate where there will be disproportionate impact on low income and Latinx communities from this closure. Refugio and Calhoun County are immediately adjacent to the bays, which are predominately have a Hispanic and Latino population than other counties in Texas. According to Wilson, they have a lower median household income and higher rate of poverty. These counties have a substantially higher rate of reliance on natural resources than 1.8 of American population who work in these industries. 
  6. The TPWD failed to provide sufficient evidence to justify permanent closure of the Bays. TPWD relied only on a single month in 2021 to calculate the amount of fishing vessels in Mesquite, Ayers, and Carlos Bay to measuring harvest pressure.
  7. TPWD did not adequately consider the effect temporarily closing other bays would have on harvest pressure for the bays. Other temporary closures, such as the closures of Galveston, Matagorda, and San Antonio bays have increased harvest pressure on the bays because there are so few bays open for commercial oyster collection. This creates a cascading effect, as the trend continues, eventually none of the bays will be left open for commercial oyster removal to sell.
  8. In addition, the TPWD failed to provide sufficient evidence of damage to reef structure at Ayers, Mesquite, and Carolos Bays. The TPWD sites have members of the public who are concerned about structural integrity. Yet it does not provide the basis of that concern or whether that concern was justified or reasonably based on the reasons offered by public members. It also does not appear that TPWD investigated the physical structure of the reefs after learning about the concern.
  9. TPWD fails to comply with Texas Oyster fishery management plan. Apparently, the plan states that ‘restrictions on means and methods are intended to offset environmental impacts, ensure adequate spawning stock, make maximum use of environmental potential, provide maximum economic benefit to the state and provide for maximum distribution of participation in the fishery.” However, permanent closures of the bays do not guarantee maximum distribution or participation. Temporary closures strike a superior balance between environmental impacts and participation in the fishery. 

The Terence courtney commented about their opposition to this closure. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fund and organizer for the Matagorda Bay Fishery Cooperative met for 16 months in Seadrift and Port Lavaca, Texas saying they are concerned about the proposal. Curtis Miller is a third generation oyster man from Seadrift and Port Lavaca. Miller is 60 years old and a life-long oysterman since he was 9 years old and picking up oysters by hand on the shores of Lavaca Bay and shucking them for family, friends, and neighbors.

“I am opposed to the proposed closing of the three bays because it is based on misinformation, distorted facts and outright lies. This is nothing more than a power grab by special interest groups who, like a bully in the playground, want the bays all to themselves,” said Miller.

Mauricio Blanco is a second generation fisherman in Port Lavaca, who has been working in Calhoun County bays for 35 years.

“Parks and Wildlife’s permanent closure will affect me by obligating me to be confined to a small space with other boats. Not by choice—but obligated by Texas Parks and Wildlife,” said Blanco.