Last Friday, November 1, was the first day of the fishing season on Texas public oyster reefs. The vast majority of Texas oysters come from these areas. But because of the heavy rains last week, not all of the oystering areas in Galveston Bay were cleared for fishing. Call it a soft opening.
The reefs in the middle of Galveston Bay are always open during the fishing season. The reefs closest to the shoreline, called prohibited reefs, are always closed due to the potential for contamination from on-shore sources. The reefs in between the two are known as "conditional reefs"—they are closed after a big rain when run-off from storm drains and parking lots can compromise water quality. Conditional areas 2, 3, and 4 and all of Lavaca Bay were closed to fishing on opening day.
The good news is that the heavy rainfall last week and the forecast of more rain this week could increase the fresh water flow into the bays. Fresh water helps improve fishing conditions by discouraging the saltwater predators that have been bedeviling the oysters since the salinity level started rising in response to the drought.
Local rain helps some, but what really benefits Galveston Bay is a heavy influx of fresh water from the San Jacinto and Trinity Rivers. Flooding in the West Branch of the San Jacinto River last week was welcome news for Galveston Bay oystermen.
The flood of fresh water from the Lavaca River and Garcia Creek that held up the opening of Lavaca Bay may benefit the oyster reefs there later this season or next year. Likewise, the heavy rainfall in Central Texas last week (12 inches is some places) might raise the level in the Highland Lakes and allow the Lower Colorado River Authority to release more water than originally forecast downstream--that would help Matagorda Bay revive its oyster reefs next year, too.
If you love oysters, enjoy the rain!