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From left, State Representatives Terry Canales, Todd Hunter, Geanie Morrison and Dennis Bonnen hold a plate of oysters from the gulf during the first Texas Oyster Aquaculture Summit held in Corpus Christi in 2019. 

CORPUS CHRISTI – San Patricio County is known for its farms and ranches as well as the financial impact those livelihoods bring into the county.

Now, a new type of farming is making its way to the area which doesn’t require tractors or livestock in order to make a living.

In August the state of Texas launched the oyster mariculture industry as directed by legislation authored by State Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, which may provide an opportunity for significant economic activity along the Coastal Bend and maybe even across the state.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has staff available to review sites in Aransas Bay, Corpus Christi Bay and Matagorda Bay among others. 

This new industry along the coast allows residents to lease public waters to grow and harvest oysters commercially. According to a recent press release from Hunter, Texas had been the only coastal state in the country that did not engage in cultivated oyster mariculture, forcing local restaurants to import farm-grown half-shell oysters from other states.

“The time has come for these Texas-grown oysters to be served in restaurants across this country,” Hunter said. “We have worked for years to bring oyster mariculture to Texas because the economic and cultural benefits for our region are limitless. This will allow us to share more of the Coastal Bend with the rest of the state and country.”

Last year, Hunter authored House Bill 1300 to bring the industry to Texas. On Sept. 16 he will also host an online symposium sponsored by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christion about this new industry from 2 to 3 p.m. which can be viewed at tamucc.webex.com.

“A&M-Corpus Christi is proud to continue working with our community partners across South Texas to build a successful oyster mariculture industry,” said Texas A&M-Corpus Christi President and CEO Kelly M. Miller. “We are excited to host this symposium as a next step in this process and look forward to a productive exchange of ideas.” 

TPWD provides more information at tpwd.texas.gov about the new industry and allows the public to apply for a permit to open an oyster farm. Anyone interested can also email oyster.mariculture@tpwd.texas.gov to apply for permits.

Oyster mariculture operations will be sited in areas ensuring compatibility with the Texas coastal marine environment. Methods of culture will be those well-accepted in other areas of the world. Unlike other forms of mariculture, the oysters grown in Texas water will rely entirely on naturally occurring microalgae for growth.

“Texas is renowned not just for our abundance of natural resources, but for our ability to responsibly harness these resources to the benefit of our citizens,” Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said.“I want to congratulate Representative Hunter on the passage of his legislation that allows oyster mariculture in Texas. Oyster beds are critical to maintaining healthy water circulation in our coastal waters. HB 1300 embodies the Texas spirit of economic independence and environmental sustainability.”

Hunter has worked closely with business owners in the Corpus Christi area to build support for oyster mariculture, recognizing the many ways it could benefit the area’s restaurant and tourism industries.

“The Texas Cultivated Oyster Mariculture Industry truly represents the collaborative efforts of Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Harte Research Institute, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Texas Restaurant Association, the Coastal Bend business community and of course State Representative Todd Hunter,” Corpus Christi Waterstreet Restaurants owner Brad Lomax said. 

“Two years ago Rep. Hunter charged our ‘Grow Texas Oysters’ group with the mission of bringing back the Coastal Bend Oyster ... and to do so in a way that creates economic opportunity, preserves environmental sustainability, and enhances the recreational/tourism experience. Under Todd’s leadership and with his guidance, the Texas Cultivated Oyster Mariculture program has put us on the path to ‘mission accomplished!’”

Paul Gonzales is a reporter at The News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270, or by email at pgonzales@mysoutex.com.

 

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