The Effects of Hurricane Ike on the Oyster Industry

Misho Ivic
Misho Ivic, the owner of Misho’s Oyster Company in San Leon, says that thanks to Ike, there aren’t going to be any oysters harvested in Galveston Bay for a while. The Louisiana oyster grounds were also closed for several weeks as a result of Gustav. But the closings will have limited impact since the public oyster season wasn’t open yet anyway. The oyster season on public reefs in Texas opens November 1 or at the discretion of Texas Parks & Wildlife. And by then, Misho Ivic figures he’ll be back in business.

Ivic lost one of his oyster boats in the hurricane. Another is sitting on top of levee near Texas City waiting for a crane to put it back in the water. Jeri’s Seafood at Smith Point lost several boats as well. The boat docks, refrigerated storage facilities and shucking plants at most oyster companies located on Galveston Bay are in shambles.

While most of the oyster fleet survived, the boats may not have anywhere to unload oysters when the season opens, Texas Parks and Wildlife oyster specialist Lance Robinson told me. The actual damage to the oyster population is as yet undetermined, he said. The underwater oyster reefs were hammered. Many oysters were covered with silt and smothered.

But it helps to remember that oysters have populated the Gulf for eons and they are incredibly resilient. Their survival strategy is rapid reproduction. “Oysters are uniquely adapted to respond to hurricanes,” Robinson pointed out. “Oysters will change their sex from male to female or female to male--whatever it takes to increase the population.”

Misho Ivic told me about an experiment he witnessed at Texas A&M Galveston some years ago. Gulf oysters were submerged in warm seawater in a shallow plastic pool. Then a sudden influx of cold fresh water was introduced, simulating a storm. The oysters responded by going into a reproductive frenzy. The experiment demonstrates what happens when an oyster population in the wild senses sudden changes in salinity, water temperature or atmospheric pressure.

Huge spat sets are generally observed after a hurricane. If the offspring can survive the maturation period without interference from drought or another storm, oystermen can expect to see record harvests three years later. “Short term, Hurricane Ike will have a detrimental effect on the Galveston Bay oyster industry,” Lance Robinson speculated. “Long term, it will probably be positive.” -- Robb Walsh


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