Heavy Rains Cause Texas Oyster Disaster, for the Second Year in a Row

An influx of freshwater is killing the crop.

By Alain StephensJune 16, 2016 8:55 am|

Texas has recently been bombarded with epic levels of rainfall. It wasn’t so long ago that many Texans were praying for rain, but this much of it is not so good if you’re in the business of oysters.

Oyster fishermen all along the Texas Gulf Coast say all of this rainfall is bad. But just how bad is it?

“Well, how bad would it hurt anyone to lose four years of income? It’s pretty hard to make a house note when you don’t have a job for four years,”says Clifford Hillman. “We lost them last year, we’ve lost them this year. And at a minimum that will be for the next two years because of the growth cycle.”

Hillman is the CEO of Hillman Oysters out of Galveston. He says oysters are dying by the boatloads – all because of an influx of freshwater that’s been flooding into oyster bays.

Lance Robinson works with coastal fisheries for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He says oysters are finicky – and they’re particularly susceptible to their environment.

“Oysters … must have some level of salt for them to survive,” Robinson says. “So when you have these freshwater events, oysters – being filter feeders – will stop filtering water when it gets down below certain levels of salinity. Then the oysters will start dying.”

It’s hitting the state’s $30 million oyster industry hard – so much so that late last week oystermen appealed to Galveston County Judge Mark Henry for help.

“They were suffering,” Henry says. “They asked me on Thursday if I’d consider a disaster declaration. I verified the information they were giving me, not that I doubted them. And it turned out they were correct. So I issued the disaster declaration that would now enable them to seek state and federal relief in form of grants and low interest loans.”

But Henry’s declaration has to be approved by the governor’s office before any of that money could be made available, and that process could take years.

Oystermen like Clifford Hillman say they aren’t holding their breath.

“I don’t think anyone is crossing their fingers,” Hillman says. “We’ve never had the government step in and give us any relief. That’s just the nature of the beast when you’re in this industry and this fishery. We just have to have nature itself give us some relief.”

Unfortunately for Hillman and others in the oyster industry, Texas weather isn’t always well known for cooperating.