It's tough being a gulf oyster. The BP oil spill devastated Louisiana oyster beds, and then a historic Texas drought reduced river flows into Galveston Bay, seriously increasing the bay's salinity. Predators and disease are thriving and threatening the already hobbled industry.
Now the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality has dealt Galveston Bay oystermen another blow, with recent regulations that affect water rights for those who live along the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers that feed the bay. The rules allow water users to pump water the rivers nearly dry at times, cutting flows into the bay and resulting in an ongoing man-made drought situation.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the oysters I ate at S&D on Mckinney Avenue. I'd never had gulf oysters before, and the restaurant delivered sizable flavorful oysters that were fairly priced. I called the owner, Herb Story, who's been serving oysters at his restaurant for 35 years and asked him what he thought of water rights and their effect on the supply.
"The drought obviously impacts it," he told me. Story went on to tell me the quality of the product he serves is as good as ever, but what's damaged is his pocketbook. Prices fluctuate based on many factors. Hurricanes and other events affect short term supply, and the oil spill drove up prices 100 percent as oystermen scrambled to find beds that hadn't been tainted with oil.
Prices have recovered some since the BP disaster, but the drought conditions continue to keep pressure on the industry, as officials monitor beds and regulate when and where the mollusks can be harvested. That's why Story purchases oyster throughout the gulf, from Texas to Florida, to keep his offering as fresh and affordable as possible. Fishermen, unfortunately, don't have that luxury.
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