When the water warms up from late spring to early fall, male and female oysters release clouds of sperm and eggs. Once fertilized, the tiny rice-sized larvae drift through the open waters, searching for a place to settle and grow. When they find a suitable spot, they begin to form an oyster bed.
The natural reefs they build protect shorelines, reduce erosion and filter water. But over time, up to 90 percent of the world’s historic oyster beds have been lost due to environmental stresses – such as stronger hurricanes and longer droughts – plus human impacts like pollution from oil spills, fertilizer runoff and industrial facilities.
In Texas, commercial oystermen like Jurisich make their livings by harvesting the mollusks from public reefs along the state’s bay systems. But the past decade has seen a steady stream of environmental disasters, meaning there aren’t enough oysters at market size to open most of the state’s 29 shellfish harvest areas for commercial fishing.
Those restrictions have put the state’s oystermen and state wildlife officials at odds. The fishermen want to ensure a sustainable future for their livelihood, while the wildlife agency is focused on protecting the ecological health of the bays. They may never agree, but the two sides do recognize that getting it right is going to take time.