Judging from the oysters I saw on the shucking line at Jeri's Seafood last Friday, early season oysters from Galveston Bay are going to be better than usual when the season opens November 1. That's good news for Houston oyster lovers. The bad news is oyster availability is going to be very poor.
"The season will open on November 1, but the oysters are going to be skimpy in Galveston Bay," says Texas Parks & Wildlife oyster fishery manager Lance Robinson. The most productive oyster reefs in Texas will be in the Aransas Bay system, especially the Copano Bay area west of Rockport, Robinson reported. That area is still reaping the benefits of a tropical storm that flushed the estuary with fresh water a couple of years ago.
Jeri's Seafood in Smith Point own several leases in various areas of Galveston Bay. That makes it possible for them to sell oysters year round, even though "summer oysters" are of lesser quality. "The oysters we are shucking now are yielding about three pounds per 100-count sack. In the winter, we get 6 to 7 pounds a sack," Jeri's oyster program manager, Tracy Woody, told me.
The drought conditions that have plagued Texas since 2010 resulted in the highest salinity levels ever recorded in Galveston Bay in August 2011. The salinity level has improved a little in the last few years, but not enough to save the oysters.
While there has been an excellent spat set, all those baby oysters are suffering from the invasion of predators brought on by high salinity. Oyster drills, dermo bacteria, and other oyster pests are killing off the bivalves.
Jeri's has been forced to move oysters from the saltiest lease areas to leases in the East Bay that are closer to fresh water inflows, and that's why so many of the oysters they are shucking look fatter than usual. The nutrients in the fresh water are accelerating growth. But the cost of moving the oysters around is prohibitive. So don't expect any cheap oysters this season.
The quality of the oysters will improve as the water gets colder, peaking around mid-March. The public season ends on April 30.