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Blueprint for the Great American Dream

prestige oyster Blueprint for the Great American Dream

Lisa and Raz Halili of Prestige Oysters.

The story of Prestige Oysters

By K. Pica Kahn

halilis Blueprint for the Great American Dream

Johnny and Lisa Halili.

It is a love story,  and a story of the American dream. Johnny Halili, a little boy in Albania, never dreamed he would be an oyster mogul in the U.S. In the 1970s, coming from his home country to Chicago, he began his American work life in a car wash. Drifting from job to job, he heard from his cousin that there was work in Louisiana; so off he went.

Working on a boat for the first time, he was a deckhand and worked very hard for years. Eventually he bought his own oyster boat, the Lady Katherine, and that is when his successful American dream life began.

Prestige Oysters is a private family run business which continues with his best deckhand Lisa, who later became the love of his life and his wife. Working through all kinds of weather, they never gave up their dreams. The couple are now joined by their son Raz in this family owned and run business. The company has two full-time processing plants providing market for over 100 boats from Texas to Louisiana and Maryland.

The family was able to increase their business with the acquisition of the Quintus 350L high-pressure processing machine and CryoQuick tunnel to process oysters. In 2013, the company acquired Joey’s Oyster Company’s state of the art facility with HPP technology in Amite, Louisiana.

Rescue Bae

Raz Halili took to the flooded streets after Harvey to rescue people and animals alike. He has gained national attention after one of his rescue photos went viral. He has been affectionally dubbed ‘Rescue Bae.’

“HPP is one of the most clean and advanced food processing technologies. It is the size of a small room,” said Raz. “It does 1,200 oysters at a time in high pressure. We buy from other people, and we have our own boats. We also buy from independent contractors from South Texas up to Maryland. Oysters are a very popular appetizer. They are a delicacy – a romance between ocean and man ”

The High-Pressure process is a food processing method using water and elevated pressures to achieve consumer desired goals.  In 1990s, HPP emerged as a method of processing food, but not until the 21st century was it applied to seafood.

The advancements in HPP technology over recent decades have proved this method of food processing is of the highest quality. From fresh juice to meats and seafood, HPP neutralizes listeria, salmonella, E. coli and other deadly bacteria. Their Treasure Band oysters have undergone our High Pressure Process which reduces the Vibrio Vulnificus and Vibrio Paraheamolyticus to non-detectable levels.

The idea for the purchase of the multi million dollar machine was that of the father, according to Raz.

“He really saw the value in it, and so we bought one, and it has been a great asset for us.”

According to his mother Lisa, Raz took the business to a new level, when he approached the giant Sysco Foods.

“He was just this kid with an idea, and he made it happen,” said the proud mom. “We would have never even thought of it, but after college he came on the sales side of the business and this was his venture, and he took a chance and did it for us. It made all the difference. We are very proud of him. We were just simple wholesalers, and he took us to a whole new level.

Like his father before him, the son now 31, had a vision of where he wanted to take the company.  After pitching the idea to the seafood director at the time, he felt confident this was a program with a story behind it that could sell.

“We were able to supply a year-round supply of oysters at a competitive price, and we are the first ones to have a corporate level oyster program at Sysco,” said Raz. “It was a multimillion dollar investment, but we always want to change, grow and push our company to greater highest.”

Although the idea and the execution was the son’s idea, he says he learned so much from his father, from whom he got his work ethic.

“He taught me the meaning of hard work and dedication, always preaching to never take anything for granted, to help others and stay loyal to the ones who have helped you along the way. My family and I have a great appreciation of living in a free country, where you can fulfill your wildest dreams. Enjoy working hard and it will pay off.”

Harvey – A storm of biblical proportions

harvey bay ridge Harvey   A storm of biblical proportions

Bay Ridge in League City, like so many other neighborhoods, saw extensive flooding during Hurricane Harvey.

By George Dismukes

We have a tendency to forget the power of nature until she gets restless, raises her head and deals us a blow like Harvey who has left in its path devastation of historical if not biblical proportions, with costs estimated easily to be in the trillions of dollars. There has never been a storm like it to hit the Texas coast… EVER in the annals of recorded history. It will be spoken of for decades and used as the model when people study storms and how to respond to them.

The magnitude of the storm was enormous. The world knows by now that Houston got swatted like a fly, even though the eye of the storm hit almost 200 miles south of Houston, at Rockport. Some structures that existed before the storm have simply disappeared. Others were flattened or torn asunder and can only be razed, never repaired. FEMA estimates they will be on site for years to come trying to make sense of it all.

Then, there are some structures, some homes that, against all odds, withstood the Category 4 onslaught. Why? Could it have been luck? Hardly. When you’re dealing with a storm of this magnitude, luck hardly fits into the equation. So, precisely what is the difference between a house that has to be picked up in pieces, and the one still standing?

The Gulf Coast Mariner needed to know. After all, a large part of our readers live within a storm zone, and vulnerable to attack by the next fury of nature.

We asked two of our Mariner advertiser/builders to help us out by revealing the most vital things to do when building a house to maximize the odds that house would remain standing after a hurricane. Below are their responses. We recommend you take notes. What they have to say could save you thousands of dollars and untold heartache.

THINGS YOU SHOULD DO

All good homes begin with a sound design. Your architect/designer doesn’t just draw pleasing pictures, they are trained to know what materials must be used in vital places to make your structure strong. In addition, they are familiar with local building codes and will design your home so that it meets or exceeds those codes, thereby assuring that your home will pass inspection. If a home does not meet the local building codes, you cannot get an inspection certificate and without a certificate, you cannot get insurance.

If your home is to be built on a concrete foundation (slab), be sure the cap is no less than 4” thick and your beams are 1’ X 2’, minimum. If the house is to be constructed on pilings, contract for a reputable piling installer, like Palm Coast Pilings, who is capable of precise piling positioning and will advise you on the correct size of piling, correct spacing and depth to sink your pilings in order to keep your home level, safe and secure.

Application of steel strapping below and above (from below bottom plate to stud.) Hurricane straps from the top of the stud to the rafter; and not on alternating studs, but affixed to every stud without exception.

Things such as the kind of nails employed in your structure are far more important than most people think. Ring shank or screw shank nails used in basic framing make for a stronger structure.

Some builders use 7/16” composite wood for roof decking. Use plywood only, and in most cases, 5/8” thickness.

Before siding can be installed, you must first scab your house with plywood or pressed wood sheathing. This must be firmly nailed in frequent spacing. It will keep your house plumb and square in high winds. Without it, your home is nothing but a playhouse, vulnerable and destined for disaster.

THINGS TO NOT DO

DO NOT HIRE STORM CHASERS.  Storm chasers are people who gravitate to a disaster area following a storm or other tragedy and go door to door offering repairs at discount prices. They almost always want a hefty deposit in advance, frequently do not show up at all to effect repairs and if they do, generally perform inferior “band-aid” work which is unacceptable in every sense and do not meet local building codes. They purchase the cheapest materials they can find that do not meet the minimum specifications for the type of repair being performed; they do shoddy work. Even if you have to wait a while, contract a local firm that has a reputation to live up to, and a history of work within your community. It isn’t just the best way to go. It is the only way to go. To this end, Putnam Builders will check out any builder you are considering at no cost and let you know what rating they have.

DO NOT SKIMP ON BUILDING MATERIALS. If you make a deal with your contractor, which involves you purchasing the materials and him doing the labor, that’s fine. But do not buy things such as cheap nails. Here’s an example: If you are using treated wood, to fasten that wood, you must use ‘hot dipped galvanized’ nails. If you skimp and purchase electro galvanized nails, you will regret it because electro galvanized nails cannot stand up to the corrosiveness of treated lumber. They will rust away within a few years and your project (say for instance a deck) will literally fall apart before your eyes.

The bottom line is, you do stand a chance against the biggest, most powerful storm. But it’s not a lucky shot, it is the result of good planning and a well constructed building; a structure that was built with hurricanes in mind.

There simply are no guarantees, but you can improve the odds of being one of those lucky people who still have a house after the storm. The key:  Take nothing for granted.

Non-profit Offers Free, Easy-to-Use Tool to Keep Houston-Galveston Communities Clean

We all want clean neighborhoods, but does anyone know the specific agency that cleans up pollution in our cities and communities? The problem is that it’s not just one agency responsible for responding to all kinds of water and land pollution – it’s a myriad of county, state, and local government entities in any given region that each respond to different kinds of pollution.

The agency in your neighborhood that cleans up sewer overflows may not be the same that cleans up chemical spills or illegal dumping. And if you cross into another city, it may be a completely different set of agencies responsible than those in your hometown.

This complicated framework for reporting pollution can be discouraging for individuals who see pollution and want to do something about it. That’s why Galveston Bay Foundation developed the Galveston Bay Action Network, an online tool and free mobile app that allows users to report any land or water pollution in Harris, Galveston, Chambers, and Brazoria counties quickly and easily.

The Galveston Bay Action Network allows users to report various kinds of pollution such as trash/debris, oil spills, fish kills, wetland destruction and more by simply submitting a single online form that can be supplemented with photos or videos of the pollution event. These reports are then automatically sent to the specific agency that can respond to them based on the location of the report and the kind of pollution observed, taking out the work of tracking down the correct agency for you.

Help keep our communities clean and download the app on Google Play and iTunes, or report pollution on a desktop at www.galvbay.org/gban.

The Galveston Bay Action Network was developed under the guidance of Galveston Bay Foundation, with funding from the Texas General Land Office (TGLO), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Gulf of Mexico Program. In order to ensure these reports were sent automatically to the proper authorities, GBF worked with the technology company Vertices to create the necessary code and software for the Galveston Bay Action Network.

Beautify the Bucket

oliviahopkins Beautify the Bucket

The winning bucket by Olivia Hopkins.

Galveston Artist Boat’s Beautify the Bucket Competition is designed to allow citizens to take an active role in beautifying Galveston’s beaches in a way that also encourages better stewardship behaviors in others. Marine debris is a serious threat to organisms in our coastal and marine ecosystems. While the three “R’s” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) will help prevent marine debris all throughout the watershed, proper use of trash receptacles can reduce debris directly from the beach.

On Earth Day, April 22, 49 trash cans painted by local artists of all ages were on display at the Texas Adopt-a-Beach Beach Clean Up meeting location at Menard Park on the Galveston Seawall. Later that evening, the trash cans were moved to the Galveston Arts Center during Artwalk, where the public voted on which trash can they liked best for the People’s Choice Award.

All 49 trash cans will be placed on the beach along the seawall for the public to utilize and enjoy. The next Beautify the Bucket competition will be held Sept. 23, 2017. Visit www.artistboat.org for more information.

Winners

Adult

  • 1st Place: Olivia Hopkins
  • 2nd Place: Unbleached Designs (Anabel and Daniel Orta)
  • 3rd Place: Charli and Jim Rohack

Adult Groups

  • 1st Place: Beauties and the Bucket
  • 2nd Place: The Williams Family and Friends
  • 3rd Place: Galveston Cancer Crushers

Youth/Family

  • 1st Place: The Morris Family
  • 2nd Place: Brookside Intermediate Art Club
  • 3rd Place: Cub Scouts Den 3 Pack 615

The Environmental Considerations of Storm Surge Mitigation

storm surge The Environmental Considerations of Storm Surge Mitigation

By Scott Jones | Director of Advocacy, Galveston Bay Foundation

Our area has been blessed with Galveston Bay, one the most productive estuaries in the country and the most productive in Texas. From its waters, a full third of the state’s commercial seafood harvests and recreational fish are landed, creating an economic engine of related businesses and quality of life for area citizens. The Bay is renowned for its oysters, shrimp, crab, redfish, flounder and speckled trout. The Bay ecosystem also supports a thriving ecotourism industry and people travel from all over the world to witness the resident and migratory birds that grace our shores.

The Bay area is also the home of hundreds of thousands of people, one of the busiest ports in the nation, one of the biggest petrochemical complexes on the world, wonderful medical centers and, of course, NASA. After the damage and loss of life wrought by Hurricane Ike in 2008, it only makes sense that residents, academic institutions, and government is looking for ways to lower the risk from future hurricane storm surges. The Galveston Bay Foundation supports such efforts, as long as all of the potential benefits and costs are fully known and all environmental impacts are openly discussed and addressed through a robust scientific investigation and review process, and the impacts are ultimately avoided or minimized.

GBF’s mission is to preserve and enhance Galveston Bay as a healthy and productive place for generations to come. Just looking at things from a purely environmental damage standpoint, we recognize that if a major storm surge were to strike our industrial complexes there could be a disastrous release of petroleum and other petrochemicals that could lead to an ecological disaster. So, we agree that there needs to be system(s) in place to prevent that occurrence, whether it’s proper management practices and protective levees at individual plants to levees that protect a whole industrial complex, e.g. the Texas City Levee System or Freeport Levee System, to a larger regional protection system such as the Texas A&M at Galveston’s Ike Dike concept. In short, there are ways to prevent those releases on multiple scales.

However, we are also a part of the local community, living and making our living on or near the Bay, and want to be a positive voice in the discussion on how best to protect not only the environment, but also people and infrastructure. As with mitigating damages to the environment from storm surge, there are also multiple ways to protect people, homes, and businesses, both structurally and non-structurally at a range of scales. The biggest question is just what is it we need to protect from storm surges. It is a fair question to ask if we need to install a coastal spine like Ike Dike the whole length of the Upper Coast to try to protect every shoreline structure from High Island to Freeport when many are already elevated and many others could be brought up to standard. Maybe a coastal spine will end up being the best answer, but all of the alternatives need to be discussed and debated in an open, transparent manner.

Getting back to environmental impacts from structural solutions, we must be aware of unintended yet irreversible damages that can be done to Galveston Bay and all it provides unless we proceed carefully, be it the Ike Dike concept, SSPEED Center’s Houston-Galveston Area Protection System concept, or the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District’s Phase 3 Recommended Actions. GBF is concerned about both direct and indirect impacts to the Bay and its habitats, but what concerns us most is the proposed massive gate structures at Bolivar Roads and, in the case of the Ike Dike, also San Luis Pass. We should note that SSPEED has also included a middle Bay gate as an option to the Bolivar Roads gate. That gate, too, also raises concerns.

Besides the release of oil and petrochemicals, the only other possible major ecological damage to the Bay related to hurricane surge will be indirect effects from the installation of these gates to water circulation, salinity, sediment transport and the movement of larval and post-larval shrimp, crabs and fish. Environmental lift gates and navigational gates at Bolivar would be open 99.9% of the time, but based on the information we have seen, the passes’ natural width would be permanently reduced by 40-50% to accommodate the footings and other structures that house the gates themselves. Thus, they would always restrict the flow and greatly increase velocities.

At this time, we do not know what effect these gate structures will have on the movement of our critically important recreational and commercial species. If we are not careful, we could lose those fisheries and the businesses that depend upon them, and that would be an unacceptable huge blow from an ecological, economic and quality of life standpoint.

To prevent such negative impacts, GBF is asking is that all possible structural and non-structural options are truly debated and that rigorous environmental research and studies be completed upfront on the structural options that can permanently alter the Bay’s natural processes. We need complete information to make a good decision, because once huge structures are built there is no going back.

The Kraken – Galveston’s Newest Artificial Reef

galveston kraken coordinates The Kraken   Galvestons Newest Artificial Reef

GPS coordinates to the new reef are: 28 26.634 N, 94 17.168 W

kraken ship The Kraken   Galvestons Newest Artificial Reef

The Kraken prior to its sinking. Photo TPWD.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Artificial Reef Program sank a 371-ft cargo vessel, named The Kraken, earlier this year in January. Dubbed the Kraken after the mythical, squid-like sea monster immortalized on film and in literature, the vessel was sunk 67 miles off the coast of Galveston to create a new artificial reef (located at GPS coordinates  28 26.634 N, 94 17.168 W).

The Kraken began its journey in May 2016 when it was towed from Trinidad to Brownsville to be repurposed for its new life as an artificial reef 140 feet below the surface. Contractors with Cahaba Disaster Recovery LLC worked with the Artificial Reef Program to remove all fuel, oil and hazardous materials from the vessel in order to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s best management practices.

Over time, this sunken ship will become an artificial reef that attracts fish, coral and other invertebrates, as well as divers and anglers. Given its location, this wreck could become a hot spot for grouper, amberjack and snapper.

“The entire marine ecosystem benefits from artificial reef projects like the Kraken,” said TPWD Artificial Reef Program Leader J. Dale Shively. “The Gulf of Mexico has only a few naturally occurring reefs so whenever we are able to add a new structure like this, the whole area benefits from the added habitat and species diversity.”

For more information about the Texas Artificial Reef Program, please visit  tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/water/habitats/artificial_reef

Oyster Gardening

bayou vista oyster Oyster Gardening

Bayou Vista Resident Jeannie Kidwell pulls up her oyster bags with Galveston Bay Foundation’s Haille Carter and Michael Neibuhr. Photo: www.stockyard.com

Residents hang bags from their docks to spawn bi-valves

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

Good things happen over wine, and in this case, it was oyster gardening.  At a Wine Social last Spring, Bayou Vista resident Chris Roper suggested to her neighbors that they collectively cultivate oysters, right from their docks.  It’s a program that Galveston Bay Foundation started in 2010, and has been doing with success in Kemah and San Leon.

Fourteen residents signed up to help, and in June, they gathered at the Roper’s driveway on Blue Heron Drive to create the 5-pound bags.  In all, they assembled 25 bags.  Again, wine was the elixir. “We were bagging with oyster gardening in one hand and wine in the other,” says Chris.

With Galveston Bay’s oyster population at an all time low, beset every two years by silt, storms, low salinities or high salinities, Galveston Bay Foundation is enlisting communities to spawn their growth and shore up subsiding land.

Bayou Vista’s tightknit bay community is a perfect setting to try out the nursery program.  At the intersection of I-45 and Hwy 6 near Galveston, it’s built around a series of residential canals fed by Highland Bayou.  On the community’s southeast boundary lies a wetland fed by West Bay.  Residents hung bags from their docks both on the bayou-canal side and the wetland side to see where the oyster larvae, spat, would take hold starting in June.

•••

Six months later, on this last day of November, it’s time to collect the bags, check for spat, and move the bags to an oyster bar breakwater so they can mature.  We’re at the Roper’s residence, it’s a brilliantly clear afternoon, and the folks from Galveston Bay Foundation are curious to see what’s inside two ice chests at the Roper’s front door.  Hallie Carter, Galveston Bay Foundation’s Habitat Restoration Coordinator, and Michael Neibuhr, Program Technician, open the chests and remove the wet towels covering bags that neighbors have dropped off.  One bag, hung in the canal, shows no spats; the other, hung in the wetland, is full of spats.  Commenting on that neighbor’s results, Chris says, “We’ve had very little influx.  I’m not surprised that our water in the canal was not absolutely full of silt.  It was dark brown.  You couldn’t see anything.”

Unlike Chesapeake Bay, where oyster gardening has been going on for years, it’s not legal to seed oysters here.  In Texas, it has to happen naturally.  So, if communities want to build oyster populations, they have to set their bags in optimum conditions.  This first year at Bayou Vista is a telling example for future sites.

Jeannie Kidwell has just returned from Christmas shopping for her grandkids when she comes to her dock to help pull up her half-year effort.  “I was a Foster Parent,” she says.

Haille and Michael open her bags and the others on the Roper’s dock, sorting the shells, looking for spats.  “I’m amazed at what I see,” says Haille.  She’s finding spat on every 10 oysters.  Some shells are covered with three or more spat.

oyster spat Oyster Gardening

That’s a spat! The oyster gardening program is designed to spawn new oysters each year.

It will take two years for this spat to grow to the legal 3-inch-size oyster for harvesting.  But these will never be harvested.  Today they’re going into restricted waters off Galveston Bay Foundation’s 449-acre Sweetwater Preserve.  There, the oysters will build a breakwater for land quickly eroding at a rate of two feet each year.  The waters at the edge of this Galveston Island preserve connect to Bayou Vista’s wetland nursery.  “When we transport spat, we have to keep them in the same sub-bay system,” says Haille.  And, in this case, it’s West Bay.

The evening is closing in when we arrive at the Sweetwater Preserve to deposit the bags.  Near the water is a tall pile of oyster shells, a curing site for those collected from nearby restaurants.  So far, six Bay Area restaurants participate in the shell-recycling program.  They’ve been given 32-gallon collection bins that Galveston Bay Foundation retrieves and brings to the curing site on a weekly basis.  Michael led that effort for most of last year. “I’d visit Tookie’s the most, about three times a week,” he says.

Shells at the curing site will go into the 5-pound bags for the gardening program.  They also make up the 35-pound bags that form this and other breakwaters.  Since 2011, the program has collected 570 tons of shells.

As they set the bags in the reef, Haille talks about how the program will expand to Galveston Island in the next year.  “We‘ll partner with Gaidos and Cajun Greek, and continue our partnership with Texas A&M-Galveston with students picking up shells at those recycling sites and taking them to the curing sites.”

Oyster gardening is easy for families to do with their kids, and it’s a good way for kids to connect to their eco-system.  To get involved, contact:

Emily Ford | eford@galvbay.org

www.galvbay.org/get-involved/volunteer

Field Season Highlights

image001 Field Season Highlights

image004 Field Season HighlightsSummer is field season for Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Typically, the Gulf of Mexico is warmer, seas are calmer, and underwater visibility is at it’s best this time of year.

But, this has not been a typical summer. Challenging sea conditions have caused us to reschedule or cancel several research cruises and have limited work efforts on others. While this isn’t entirely unusual, it is frustrating.

  • Data collection was completed for Long-term monitoring efforts at East and West Flower Garden Banks and Stetson Bank. In addition, a new monitoring program was started at High Island A-389A, the gas production platform located within sanctuary boundaries.
  • A mass mortality event was discovered by recreational divers at East Flower Garden Bank. We still haven’t figured out the cause, but the investigation is ongoing. Check out the latest news.
  • As of late August, coral bleaching had begun in parts of the Flower Garden Banks. While some level of bleaching in late summer is not unusual due to elevated ocean temperatures, we try to keep an eye on it to gauge the severity and long-term consequences.
  • Additional ROV exploration was conducted at several banks under consideration for sanctuary expansion with the help of the University of North Carolina Wilmington-Undersea Vehicles Program and the Mohawk ROV. We also conducted additional deepwater monitoring in areas around East, West and Stetson Banks.
  • The second Lionfish Invitational took place aboard M/V FLING. Twenty-two recreational divers removed 394 lionfish over four days of diving, and an eight-person science team conducted pre- and post-removal surveys of each area.

With any luck, the field season isn’t quite over. We have three more trips on our October calendar and an optimistic outlook!

http://flowergarden.noaa.gov

Oysters in Peril

By Janice Van Dyke Walden | Photography by Jim Olive

oliveoysters Oysters in PerilIt’s just after peak growing season for Eastern oysters in Galveston Bay, but on this day you wouldn’t know it.  When the field team and scientists with Texas Parks and Wildlife conduct a normal, random dredge sampling at dawn, the results are anything but normal.

In her orange-gloved hands Coastal Fisheries Technician Claire Iseton holds three empty oyster shells.  The few oysters that do come up in the basket are black and lifeless.  Coming up empty within site of Kemah’s famous seafood boardwalk where oysters are on the menu from November through April 30 is not a good sign, but it’s a trend that’s been deepening since 2000, when oysters large enough for the market suddenly plummeted and have been on a steady decline since.

What it takes

There’s no telling the age of the live and dead oysters dredged up this morning, but what the team does know is that it takes about two years for a spat to become a mature oyster.  And, the bay’s once prolific oysters reefs just haven’t had enough time to recover before they are dealt another blow.

Cattle-crossing prolific

Over 50 years ago, oyster reefs in Galveston and surrounding bays were so common that the coastal roads were paved with oyster shells.  Over a century ago, before roads and railroads, a natural oyster reef linked both sides of Galveston Bay.  So prominent was this reef that, given a stiff north wind and a low tide, cattle crossed the bay on this ridge.

Blow-by-blow, every two years now

Galveston Bay used to account for 80% of Texas’ harvested oysters.  Today, that number is more like 40%.  Although the counts have been in decline for over 20 years, it has stepped up in the last eight years with a major setback every two years.  In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit, covering nearly half the oyster beds of Galveston Bay with smothering silt.  The situation in East Bay, behind Bolivar’s Peninsula, was worst: over 80% were silt-covered from the storm.  Then in 2010, the lack of fresh water due to the drought sent salinity rates soaring, exceeding what oysters could live on.  The next year, 2011, oysters were hit by the Red Tide, and then, back-to-back, last year and this year, excessive rains flooded the bay with freshwater, beyond the oysters’ capacity to survive. According to TPWD’s Fisheries Biologist Christine Jensen, the bay’s average salinity for this July was ”getting closer to normal, but still low at an average of 11.5 parts per thousand.”

Pressures all around

Add to these natural pressures, there’s the human pressure: more people live in Texas than 50 years ago, and there’s more demand to enjoy oysters at the table.   Fishermen are pressured to harvest the very material that might provide the future harvest.  And, they can get a good price for it.  In 2014, a sack of oysters commanded $35, up $20 from 1993.  Given current low harvest counts, this year’s price may well be that, or higher.

oliveoysters2 Oysters in Peril

Claire Iseton inspects an oyster sampling on TPWD’s vessel, the Trinity Bay, at a reef within sight of the Kemah Boardwalk.

Recovery, Restoration, Intervention

It’s unknown just how much of Galveston and the surrounding bays are covered with oyster reefs.  The last complete mapping survey was done 21 years ago by Eric N. Powell who tapped the bottom of the bay with a pole to pinpoint reefs.  His research on the Eastern oyster continues.  Sophisticated technology like hydro-acoustics and side scan imagery has been useful for mapping specific losses, like in the aftermath of Ike, but the application for the whole bay is considered time consuming.

In the meantime, man’s efforts to recover the losses seem like a drop in the bucket.  Since 2009, reef restoration efforts have only restored about 1/10 of what’s been lost, 1,300 acres of the bay.  And, many of those restoration sites are off limits to fishing until they can flourish.

On June 11, Galveston County Judge Mark A. Henry took the first step to help area oyster business owners get financial assistance by declaring a local disaster.  In order to get funding, oysters farmers will need a disaster declaration from the State of Texas.  The Judge is in the process of submitting a formal request to Governor Abbott for targeted legislation to address the issue.

Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC release 2016 report card for Galveston Bay

gbaymap Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC release 2016 report card for Galveston Bay

Under the ‘find your watershed’ tab, you can enter in your city or zip code to find information about the bay, river or bayou in your community.

galvbayfound Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC release 2016 report card for Galveston BayThe Galveston Bay Foundation, partnered with the Houston Advanced Research Center, has released the 2016 report card for Galveston Bay. The grade is a C, the same as last year, after averaging the six categories of Water QualityPollution Events & Sources, Wildlife, Habitat, Human Health Risks and Coastal Change. Some categories improved from last year, but some got worse.

View the full report card here and see what you can do to help the health of Galveston Bay, the 7th largest estuary in the United States and the body of water where many Texas residents work, live and play.

The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

27troutgrass The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

This 27-inch trout came from a mix of widgeon and shoal grass.

By Capt. Steve Soule

www.theshallowist.com

Galveston Bay doesn’t have a large amount of sea grass. Prior to 2008 we had very little at all, with the exception of Christmas Bay and three areas where grass had been planted by the Galveston Bay Foundation during the late 1990s.

Galveston’s West Bay did historically have sea grasses, like much of the Texas coastline, but they had long since been wiped out. During the 1990s, when I moved to the Galveston area and started fishing, Christmas Bay was the only area where I could consistently find sea grass beds to fish. Though, there were years when certain coves in West Galveston would grow sea grass, it was primarily widgeon grass. It might grow well one year and then not be seen in the area for several years. Back then, I didn’t really realize why this grass was here some years and not others. I did however always know the benefit of the sea grasses and the incredible habitat that it provides for sea life.

Enter the Galveston Bay Foundation and their efforts to restore the bay in the mid to late 90s. They had already been involved in some shoreline restoration projects where they would replant shoreline grasses (Spartina). They also planted sea grass in three areas along the south shoreline of West Bay at Dana Cove, behind Galveston Island State Park, Snake Island Cove and at San Luis Pass behind the old water treatment plant. All of these areas still grow grass well, with Dana and Snake Island probably being the most prolific, and these grasses still thrive today. The type of sea grass that was planted at these areas is shoal grass

These patches of planted grass were a fantastic improvement for the bay. Prior to these plantings, there was only sporadic grass growth along the north shore spoils, primarily widgeon grass. Due to these grass projects and an interesting set of recurring circumstances, the shorelines of West Bay have been transformed.

All of us who fish are well aware of how breezy Galveston can be during spring with wind directions predominantly from the south or southeast. There are many days when 15-25 mile per hour winds are the norm. Stepping back and taking a look at the big picture, and remembering the three areas where grass was planted and thriving, add some powerful south winds and a seeding period in late spring, and the result is spotty grass growth along north shore spoils. The first area that I remember seeing it was west of Karankawa cut. This long flat filled in with grass rather quickly while other areas took slightly longer to grow. Next was the stretch from Greens Cut to Karankawa Cut. Over the years since, this grass has spread and now covers nearly every inch of the West Bay spoils.

Types of Galveston Sea Grass

We don’t experience the same level of grass growth every year, nor do we have the same grasses appearing. We have high and low salinity years, and as it turns out, some grasses are more adept at growing during each of these types of years.

spartina The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

Spartina grass

Spartina grass (Spartina alterniflora) along our shorelines grow in both high and low salinity and don’t seem to be effected much by annual changes.

Shoal grass

Shoal grass.© Hans Hillewaert

Shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) grows well during higher salinity years and has some interesting characteristics. This species, native along nearly all of the Texas Coast, is a straight bladed grass with small fibers along its blades. These fibers do an amazing job of filtering small particulate matter from the water column. This is the grass that gives us very clear water by trapping suspended silt in the water column so common in the Galveston area.

Widgeon grass

Widgeon grass

Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima), grows prolifically in lower salinities and it is very different when compared to shoal grass. Widgeon grass has multiple offshoots along the length of the plant stem, grows rapidly during low salinity periods and grows much taller than shoal grass. This grass will continue to grow rapidly during spring and will often grow to the water’s surface. Interestingly, as we often experience high tides in spring in conjunction with higher south winds, widgeon grass will grow to the level of the water during these high tides. This sounds great, and as it benefits the environment, it is. Due to the multiple offshoots, greater height and the density of its growth, this grass makes for an exceptional cover structure for all of the small prey animals that inhabit these areas, and the predators that follow them.

Not that it makes much difference, nor can we change what mother nature sends our way in terms of weather, but it will help you to understand when and where these grasses grow and how they will impact the water where they are present. Shoal grass is an incredible water filter and provides very good cover and habitat for small fish, crabs and shrimp that redfish and trout frequently feed upon.

Widgeon grass on the other hand, does not tend to filter the water column nearly to the degree that shoal grass will. Widgeon grass will definitely grow much thicker and provide a great habitat for both prey and predator, but will not give us the clarity of water that shoal grass provides.

For those who have been fishing the grassy areas over the past few years, you are quite aware that 2015 and now 2016 have not been great water quality years. The underlying case has been low salinity. Though we do have some areas with shoal grass, for the most part the bay floor has been taken over by widgeon grass and will stay that way until late summer when salinities are higher. Unfortunately, this is in my experience typically too late for the shoal grass to recover and grow as the early season growth of the widgeon will choke out and prevent photosynthesis.

One last note about sea grasses and Galveston Bay, and well the entire Texas Coast for that matter. Don’t quote me on the exact timing, but two-to-three years ago, Texas Parks and Wildlife department passed a law prohibiting the intentional destruction of sea grasses. These grasses are a valuable and limited part of the overall habitat, providing cover structure for numerous animals both predatory and prey. This resource can be damaged and frequently is by boaters either unaware or not concerned. Given the rate of growth and expansion of the areas with sea grasses over the past ten years, we can only hope to see a continuation of this trend. With some cautious stewardship from all who operate boats in these areas, this may be a trend that continues and provides excellent habitat and fishing for many years to come.

Texas Artificial Reefs

TXreefscuba Texas Artificial Reefs

Divers at reef MIA7 hover above a decommissioned platform in 150 feet of water 50 miles offshore Matagorda Island.

New life for old structures: Scientists are finding a surprising diversity of life on Texas artificial reefs

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

If there’s one uptick to the oil business, it’s that an old rig can bring new life.  Off the coast of Texas, some 195 structures, many of them decommissioned oil and gas platforms, are forming artificial reefs that provide intense colonies of marine life.  For sports fishermen, these are the go-to fishing spots.  For divers, these are dazzling underworlds of color and diversity.  For scientists, these are proof that the complex web of marine life can take place if provided space and structure.

Artificial reefs provide a solution to the barren bottom often found in northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  With the exception of a few natural banks, much of the ocean floor offshore Texas has no form for marine life to cling to, the kind of base that allows reef colonies to form. “Muddy and silty,” is how Jennifer Wetz describes the underwater terrain.  As Fisheries Project Manager for Harte Research Institute (HRI), Wetz has been diving and using Remote Operating Vehicles to study fish life among artificial reefs.  What she and her colleagues are finding among Texas’ artificial reefs is surprising.

“We didn’t expect to see how quickly these artificial reefs attract marine life,” says HRI Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney.  Not only do submerged platforms become quickly colonized, they populate with an impressive diversity of fish.  In their study completed last year, HRI found 52 fish species from all observed sites, Snapper being the most common. “We also found the marine life habitat to be more complex than expected,” says McKinney.

That’s encouraging news to Chris Ledford, Artificial Reef Specialist at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, who has a queue of 25 structures in the process of being converted and permanently reefed.  With 81 reef sites in Texas – an increase from 64 in 2014 – those structures will eventually add to 7 more reef sites being planned.

McKinney sees the artificial reefs as taking the pressure off the region’s few natural reefs.  “The number of fishermen with fast, long-range boats are increasing, as are good, relatively inexpensive electronics, making it easier to find these natural reefs.  So what these artificial reefs do is make more opportunities available to the recreational fisherman, and it spreads the pressure away from the natural systems.”

texas reef map Texas Artificial Reefs

Click the image above to view TPWD’s artificial reef map.

An estimated 3,000 non-producing platforms remain in the Gulf, under terms to be permanently removed.  If a company is thinking of decommissioning an old platform, converting it to a reef makes sense for the environment, and it could save them money.  By converting a 4-pile structure to an artificial reef, a company could realize a savings of up to half a million dollars.  To find out more, visit: http://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/water/habitats/artificial_reef/index.phtml

texas-reef-fishREEF SPECIES

Hart Research Institute’s ROV (remote operating vessel) documented these species on their study sites, listed here in order of most common to least common. (Data courtesy of Jennifer Wetz, M.S., Harte Research Institute.)

Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus

Spanish Hogfish Bodianus rufus

Mangrove Snapper Lutjanus griseus

Blue Angelfish Holacanthus bermudensis

Rock Hind Epinephelus adscensionis

Horse-eye Jack Caranx latus

Yellow Jack Caranx bartholomaei

Spotfin Hogfish Bodianus pulchellus

Great Barracuda Sphyraena barracuda

Blue Runner Caranx crysos

Lookdown Selene vomer

Atlantic Spadefish Chaetodipterus faber

Vermillion Snapper Rhomboplites aurorubens

Damselfish sp. Stegastes sp.

Creole Fish Paranthias furcifer

Gray Triggerfish Balistes capriscus

Almaco Jack Seriola rivoliana

Greater Amberjack Seriola dumerili

Crevalle Jack Caranx hippos

Rainbow Runner Elagatis bipinnulata

Spotfin Butterflyfish Chaetodon ocellatus

Sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus

Reef Butterflyfish Chaetodon sedentarius

Tomtate Haemulon aurolineatum

Bermuda Chub Kyphosus sectatrix

Bluehead wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum

Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris

Cobia Rachycentron canadum

Blue Tang Acanthurus coeruleus

African Pompano Alectis ciliaris

Bar Jack Caranx ruber

Black Jack Caranx lugubris

Sandbar Shark Carcharhinus plumbeus

French Angelfish Pomacanthus paru

Lionfish Pterois volitans

Black Margate Anisotremus surinamensis

Squirrelfish Holocentrus adscensionis

Townsend Angelfish Holacanthus sp.

Sergeant Major Abudefduf saxatilis

Porkfish Anisotremus virginicus

Creole wrasse Clepticus parrae

Scamp Grouper Mycteroperca phenax

Sharpnose Puffer Canthigaster rostrata

Doctorfish Acanthurus chirurgus

Palometa Trachinotus goodei

Permit Trachinotus falcatus

Silky Shark Carcharhinus falciformus

Pigfish Orthopristis chrysoptera

Lane Snapper Lutjanus synagris

Yellowtail Snapper Ochyurus chrysurus

Cubera Snapper Lutjanus cyanopterus

Rock Beauty Holacanthus tricolor

Brown Chromis Chromis multilineata

Bicolor Damselfish Stegastes partitus

Parrotfish sp. Scaridae

Yellowmouth Grouper Mycteroperca interstitialis

Goliath Grouper Epinephelus itajara

Warsaw Grouper Epinephelus nigritus

Texas Weedlines: A Blessing For Offshore Anglers

texas dorado Texas Weedlines: A Blessing For Offshore Anglers

By Capt. Joe Kent

Seaweed or Sargassum Weed as it is called is found mostly in the Atlantic Ocean and comes in concentrations from the Sargasso Sea. Sargassum Weed’s name is a result of Portuguese sailors likening this ocean-dwelling species’ bladder’s appearance to small grapes called salgazo.

Sargassum weed gravitates toward milder, more temperate and tropical oceans and farther toward shallow bodies of water. While some Sargassum weed attaches to the ocean floor, there are two species – the natan and the fluitan – that have become holopelagic, which means that they drift and migrate around the oceans and bodies of water throughout the world, though they are mostly concentrated in the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding bodies of water such as the Gulf of Mexico.

Sargassum weed acts as a mobile transport habitat for a great variety of marine life and as sublime refuge for young fish that may lack mobility. When young fish find a safe haven in Sargassum weed, they are far more protected from the ocean’s predators, thus making it possible to survive to adulthood. These patches of seaweed as we call them provide shelter, food and a place where schools of fish may form, further protecting young fish and other marine life.  Many species of marine life take refuge in the Sargassum weed and travel thousands of miles with this floating habitat, seeking protection and survival. With the presence of all of these young fish in one location, large fish often hover around, awaiting a shot at the young prey. All of this serves as a great advantage for anglers in search of the predator fish.

August is in my opinion the best month for offshore fishing along the upper Texas Coast.  Anglers able to make it 20 miles out should easily locate this fishing phenomena and the variety of fish in and around it.

Chicken Dorado, as the smaller of the species of Dorado are called, attack small bait with a vengeance and fishermen focusing on weed lines and patches mop up on them.

One nice thing about Dorado is that there are no bag or size limits; however, with that being said, good stewardship dictates taking only as many as you, your family and friends will consume.

For table fare, Dorado are among the best fish in the ocean.  Other fish commonly found among seaweed are all of the pelagic fish, tripletail and all sorts of small bait fish.

Offshore anglers fishing off of the Texas Gulf Coast encounter basically two types of seaweed concentrations.  Weedlines and Weed Patches.

Weedlines are, as the term suggests, long lines of seaweed clumped together along a tide line or water color change.  The patches are big clumps ranging in size from a few square yards to several acres.

One of the best ways to fish long weed lines is to troll both sides.  However, often there is so much scattered seaweed along the edges that trolling can be frustrating as the lures keep getting clogged with the weed.  Drift fishing is the other popular method for fishing around seaweed and is the method of choice if trolling is a problem.

Once a strike takes place, it is a good idea to chum the area to keep the schools of fish nearby.  Dorado in particular will continue to feed although others in the school are hooked and fighting for survival.

ling Texas Weedlines: A Blessing For Offshore Anglers

Capt. Joe Kent and Gulf Coast Mariner Magazine Creative Director, Brandon Rowan with a 65-pound ling taken from a weedline.

Some of the largest ling I have caught have come from seaweed concentrations as there is another benefit that comes from the big concentrations and that is shade.  Ling and Dorado love shade during the heat of the day and seaweed definitely offers that benefit.

Just about any bait used otherwise for offshore fishing will be good for fishing the weed lines and patches.  The idea is to keep the bait suspended anywhere from the surface to just a few feet below.

One of the best ways to test an area is to toss some chopped bait into the water.  If fish are nearby, they normally will come check it out and you can actually see your target.

Fishing around seaweed offshore is one of my favorite types of fishing.  If you have not tried it, chances are you will share my enthusiasm once you experience it.

Galveston Bay Bacteria After the Storms

gbf bacteria Galveston Bay Bacteria After the Storms

David Bulliner, GBF’s Volunteer Lab Assistant, processes a sample to measure the bacteria concentration present.

Galveston Bay Foundation Water Quality Monitors Find High Concentrations of Galveston Bay Bacteria After Floods.

By Galveston Bay Foundation Staff

Over the past few months, there has been more rain than usual in the Houston-Galveston area – more than 13 inches above average, to be exact.

And as water from heavy rainfalls sweeps through the streets, urban runoff gets carried along and ends up in Galveston Bay.

“During major storm events, water will run down the streets taking anything left on the ground including sources of bacteria like pet waste, fertilizers, and even sewage,” Sarah Gossett, Galveston Bay Foundation Water Quality Volunteer Coordinator said.

She said stormwater management systems are designed to move water into waterways as quickly as possible, meaning most of our stormwater doesn’t pass through natural vegetative barriers that would help absorb water and filter out pollution.  Instead, it tends to increase the bacteria entering our waterways and impacts the saltiness of our Bay.

Gossett said major influxes of rain also cause sewer overflows from damaged or clogged sewage pipes.

Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF), a local nonprofit organization that strives to preserve and protect Galveston Bay, oversees a team of 47 volunteer water quality monitors who collect samples from 48 sites around Galveston Bay. The spikes in bacteria concentrations their samples have found after recent storms have been significant. Many sites sampled had higher than normal bacteria concentrations, some three times or more than EPA recreation standards for swimming.

“While some sites see higher concentrations of bacteria more frequently than others, every location is at risk after a major rain,” Gossett said.

GBF’s 2015 Report Card evaluates the state of the Bay and gave recreational safety an “A” grade for the Bay. Galveston Bay is generally safe to swim in, though GBF recommends avoiding swimming along the shoreline after a heavy rainfall.

“Our main concern is for the safety of people, and the Bay of course,” said Dave Bulliner, GBF Volunteer Lab Technician.

Bulliner said it was typical for bacteria concentrations to be highest during the summer. When he finds an abnormally high concentration of bacteria, he contacts Gossett who has a volunteer collect another sample from that location. If bacteria levels remain high, Gossett notifies the proper decision-makers to recommend preventative measures for the future. To learn more about the current bacteria levels around Galveston Bay, visit www.galvbay.org/citizenscience.

Another water quality parameter that has been impacted by the recent heavy rainfalls is the salinity, or saltiness, of Galveston Bay has decreased dramatically.

“Salinity is everything to the Bay,“ said Paula Paciorek, GBF’s Water Resources Coordinator. “If salinity levels are too low or too high, we can immediately observe a decline in oyster populations and an increase in their predators and diseases, which brings the whole Bay off balance.”

pump dump map Galveston Bay Bacteria After the Storms

How you can reduce runoff in our waterways:

Join GBF’s Water Quality Monitoring Team

Be informed about water quality issues in your area. To learn more about the water quality or to help protect the water quality in Galveston Bay, visit www.galvbay.org/watermonitors.

Pump Don’t Dump

If you have a head on board your boat, make sure that you and your fellow boaters pump out your sewage instead of dumping it into the water. Visit www.pumpdontdump.org to learn more and find the nearest pump-out station.

Report Pollution

Report any pollution you see to the Galveston Bay Action Network, an online pollution reporting service provided by the Galveston Bay Foundation. Reports are automatically sent to the proper authority for clean-up. Visit www.galvbay.org/GBAN to report pollution.

Cease the Grease

Be wary of what you put down the drain. Cooking fats, oils and grease can clog pipes and cause sanitary sewer overflows. Instead, recycle or throw out your cooking grease. Visit www.ceasethegrease.net to learn more.

Water-Conscious Landscaping

Install a Rain Barrel, plant with native plants, and create your very own rain garden. Rain barrels can be placed at downspouts or downpours from the roof in order to reduce runoff and flooding, help conserve freshwater and reduce pollution from reaching Galveston Bay. Visit www.galvbay.org/rainbarrel for more information.

The Future of Fishing As We Know It

2016redsnapperseason The Future of Fishing As We Know It

By Thomas J. HiltonHilton’s Realtime Navigator

Few Americans realize there are forces at play that are silently working to reshape how we are going to be able to access and enjoy our own public trust natural resources, (in this case, our red snapper), now and for future generations to come.

Millions upon millions of dollars have been poured into a concept called “catch shares” in our nation’s fisheries these last few years by environmental corporations, with the full knowledge and complicity of our federal government. It is a slick campaign, put forward by public relations/marketing firms to paint catch shares as a needed “conservation” tool to restore depleted fisheries. In reality, catch shares are an “economic” tool, a mechanism that converts our public trust resources into private commodities – taking from what each American owns and giving it to a few well-connected corporations free of charge.

The name does what it implies; taking what they catch, and converting them into shares, similar to shares of stock on Wall Street where the “owners” can sell, lease or trade them for profit. When you are on the ground floor of this scam, it is a massive transfer of wealth from the many (all Americans) to the few, and we are talking hundreds of millions of dollars here.

Unlike other public resources like oil, gas, and timber where rents are paid to the government for usage of the public resources, these shares are being granted to favored groups free of charge. To add insult to injury, the resource rents are diverted and paid to the corporations each year instead of to the nation, and the shares handed down to heirs as assets for generations to come. In my opinion, this is grand felony theft of the highest magnitude and nobody is being held accountable.

16redsnapper 225x300 The Future of Fishing As We Know It

“If these groups get their way, the days of an American fisherman taking his kids fishing, catching a fish and placing that fish in their cooler “for free” are coming to an end.”

In the case of Gulf of Mexico fisheries, catch shares were introduced to the commercial red snapper fishery in 2007 when the Magnuson-Stevens language was added in our fisheries law by the Environmental Defense Fund’s “Oceans Team.” This “innovative market approach” gave 51% ownership of Gulf red snapper to a few commercial fishing corporations which today I estimate to be worth around $300 million. Many of the catch share “owners” have since sold their boats and don’t even go fishing at all, and instead opt to rent their shares to other commercial operations for $3.00/pound or more.

Al Capone would be proud of these guys, skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, per owner, off of the harvest of America’s public trust resources while the nation, nor the fisheries, benefit from one red dime. They are laughing all the way to the bank, at your expense.

Now the enviro corporations, their front groups, and our own federal government are attempting to implement catch shares into our Gulf recreational fisheries. This is where I am compelled to draw the line. If these groups get their way, the days of an American fisherman taking his kids fishing, catching a fish and placing that fish in their cooler “for free” are coming to an end. You will be required to pay SOMEBODY in order to bring fish that YOU catch back home to eat. This will most likely be accomplished through the use of fish tags.

For example, recently under a pilot program for the Gulf headboats, each boat was given a certain number of fish tags with which the boat owners could utilize any way they wanted. Some operations offered their normal trips at $80/person with the option of catching (and keeping) one red snapper – that is, if you purchased a red snapper tag for $25. Wow. What a deal.

Recently, the Gulf Council segregated Gulf recreational fishermen based on what type of boat they fish upon, either a private vessel or a for-hire vessel, so that they could discriminate against one group for the benefit of the other. I find it appalling that our own federal government has resurrected failed management policies such as segregation and discrimination in order to push this privatization scheme, but that is exactly what is happening.

The proof is in the pudding – 2015 was the first year that gave different season days to the two groups. Private boats got 10 days and the for-hire boats got 44 days, and the 2016 red snapper season looks even worse for the average American Gulf fisherman. Remember, these are all recreational fishermen catching the fish – it really shouldn’t matter what type of boat they are fishing from, but separating them is essential to the next step; granting ownership of the fish to the for-hire sector of boat owners.

These are mafia-style tactics. Our own federal government is squeezing honest tax-paying American citizens into shorter and shorter red snapper seasons using bogus data to justify their actions, and then forcing the fishermen to accept the so-called “solution” of catch shares, or else be shut out of the fishery. Currently, the Gulf private recreational fisherman is prohibited from fishing for red snapper in federal waters for about 98% of the year – that is unless you want to pay a charter or head boat to take you, or…coming soon on your own boat…fish tag$.

The NMFS has failed all of us in this scam and needs to be fired, plain and simple. There is a bill that needs all of our support at the Congressional level; H.R. 3094 which would transfer management of the Gulf red snapper to the five Gulf states. We need to stop this privatization scheme now, as it will certainly not stop at red snapper – it will encompass every single federally-managed fish that swims in the ocean.

Please contact your Congressional representative and voice your support of this bill – your kids’ and their kids’ fishing future depends on it.




Houston’s Flood Problem

houston april floods Houstons Flood Problem

Buffalo Bayou spills out of its banks between Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway on April 18, 2016 after heavy rains. Photo by Jim Olive.

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

Spring rains have hit Houston, and at the time of this writing, the Bayou City is flooding once again.

While offices are closed and workers stay home, the clock ticks on the 30-day public comment period for a Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) document that will affect future permitting on roads, storm water runoff and setting aside land to offset flooding.

The 53-page Permit to Discharge is TXDOT’s first attempt to standardize the agency’s permitting process across the State of Texas as it relates to water discharge.  The nation’s second largest environmental agency, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), has the document under review, and concerned environmentalists want to have time to study the permit and recommend changes.

Attorney and Galveston Baykeeper Board Member Jen Powis first heard of the document a couple of days before our talk on April 11, 2016.  Her requests to TCEQ for a copy in that first week did not produce the draft on her desk, but she has since obtained a copy of the document filed as Permit No. WQ005011000.

“Impervious surface is my concern,” says Powis, who lives in Houston.  No one doubts that flooding in the nation’s fourth largest city is due to more roads, higher density living and less surface area to absorb water when rainfall occurs.  What concerns Powis and her Baykeeper colleagues is how the State is going to allow more flooding through regulatory holes in the system   For about two years, she and other members of Galveston Baykeepers have been watching TXDOT’s moves toward “one, big statewide permit” system that could pave the way for more development and less saving of water-absorbing land.

About 27 states have adopted the policy of one permit for their entire transportation system, but with more highway miles than any other state, Texas has an unmatched amount of paving along with a variety of landscape to consider.

Till now, TXDOT has issued permits based on the specific conditions of each community.  Powis favors this approach, adding, “I’m a strong proponent of local solutions for specific places.  We all know that Houston looks very different from the Edwards Aquifer.”

Powis would also like to see metrics applied to the permitting process.  One metric would be to factor daily and statewide flow rates  – how much storm water flows through a community – to determine how and where development can occur.  This would be tied to the permitting process.

“A lot of the time we try to build our way out of the problem,” say Powis, “versus preserving land at the beginning.”  She and the other Galveston Baykeepers want to see TXDOT have more foresight in the allocation of green infrastructure.  “The burden should be on the developer to incorporate mitigation in the project,” says Powis.  She’d like to see the revised TXDOT permitting system require developers to set aside land to offset the impervious cover they create.  In an area like Houston, only one enforcement body controls such a process now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the rule doesn’t apply to all conditions.

USACE has jurisdiction over all federal waters, including wetlands under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  But under CWA, land is only a wetland if it lies within the 100-year flood plain or connects to a body of water under federal jurisdiction.  Since most of Houston’s prairie and inland wetlands are technically not termed as wetlands under CWA, developers have been able to build on these parcels without mitigating or even going through the federal permit process.

Galveston Baykeepers’ Board Member John Jacob sees that TXDOT’s new permitting process could not only support federal wetland law, but go further to protect now unprotected land – the prairie and inland wetlands – and further offset urban flooding and poor water quality.

Of the couple of Houston parcels that Jacob cites as unprotected wetland “already gone” is Generation Park, a 4,000-acre business development less than a mile west of Houston’s drinking water source, Lake Houston.  Of the 4,000 acres, Jacob says that 67% (1,300 acres) were wetland.  The master plan calls for allocating less than 20% to green infrastructure.  In this case, if TXDOT had such a rule in its permitting structure, it could help protect both Houston’s drinking water and the water quality of Sheldon Lake State Park on Generation Park’s south boundary by requiring mitigation.

Jacob has been following the dramatic loss of inland wetlands for years.  He serves as Director of Texas A&M’s Texas Coastal Watershed Program.   In a 2014 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension report, Jacob notes that in the 12 years between 1992 and 2010, Harris County and the 7 surrounding counties lost over 30% of their freshwater wetlands.  “Coastal, tidal wetlands – about 10% to 20% of the State’s total wetland inventory – are not under threat like the prairie wetlands,” says Jacob, where most of Texas’ wetland inventory lies.  And, those prairie wetlands dot the periphery of Houston’s urban sprawl, mostly in tracts less than one-acre in size.

Jacob calls Texas’ prairie and inland wetlands the “lymph nodes” of our ecology.  “They are cleaning the water, purifying the water.”

So why should the loss of wetlands 30 miles inland concern a coastal fisherman?  Jacob puts it in simple terms: “Less wetlands: more flooding: worse water quality: less fish.”

Meanwhile, the opportunity for public review and comment narrows, with TCEQ’s comment period ending May 7th.

To find out more about how Galveston Baykeepers is working to protect Texas’ coastal water quality, visit: www.galvestonbaykeeper.org/threats

Counting on Birds: San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

birds 1 Counting on Birds: San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

It takes teamwork to spot, identify and count the flurry of quick bird activity at San Bernard NWR. San Bernard’s CBC is the third of four CBCs that Tad Finnell and Susan Heath will participate in this year. Photo by Jim Olive Photography.

Each Christmas, thousands of volunteers take to the field to count birds in the great, international census supported by Audubon.  This December, Janice Van Dyke Walden joined a group at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, and tells how anyone can join in the count.

It’s 6:30 a.m. on Friday, December 18, 2015 at the headquarters of San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge in Texas when about 35 volunteers show up in the dark, ready to go in the field to count birds.  They don’t stay long; they are here to catch the first light.  That’s when the refuge’s bird life is most active.  As soon as Ron Weeks marks their presence on his laptop’s list, they form groups and disappear in the dark to their designated sections within the 15-mile count radius.

Outside, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Jennifer Wilson is fielding questions.  She and Ron are co-compilers for the event, and she’s well acquainted with the procedure, having managed many Audubon Christmas Bird Counts at the refuge.

Suddenly, headquarters’ big room empties, and Ron sees me standing near him to receive my group assignment.  “You go with Susan Heath to Wolfweed Wetlands,” he says, barely looking up from his laptop.

I get in my car, and head to the refuge’s wetland.  Already the sun is coming up.  The visibility is clear, the atmosphere is relatively dry, and it’s 38° degrees F.  I’m wearing three layers, tall boots and fingerless gloves.  When I arrive at the wetland, Susan sees me and says, “Aren’t you going to be cold?”  Having been in situations like this before, I shrug off her concern, and join the four in our group: Sandy Moore, Joanna Friesen, Tad Finnell and Susan who is Avian Conservationist Biologist for the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.

Everyone in this group has put in long hours so far: Sandy woke up at 3:30 this morning to pick up Joanna for the hour-and-a-half drive from Houston; Tad and Susan woke up yesterday at 3 a.m., did the Guadalupe River Delta bird count, got home at 9 p.m. last night, and woke up early this morning to be at San Bernard before dawn.  This is their third bird count in a week, and in 48 hours they’ll do a fourth one in Freeport.

redtailhawk Counting on Birds: San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

red-tailed hawk

If there seems to be a rush among the friendly morning chatter, there is:  it’s a rush against daylight; a rush to count as many birds in the country in the season’s three-week window.  Researchers and climate specialists rely on data from the annual Christmas Bird Count to understand species decline, habitat changes and migratory trends influenced by a warming world.  When Ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed the first Christmas Bird Count in December 1900, he promoted it as an alternative to the “Side Hunts” so prevalent at the time, where teaming hunters would choose sides and see how many birds they could shoot in a day.  That first year, 27 volunteer observers conducted a bird census at 29 locations, from Ontario to California.  A century and 15 years since, the census has grown to a major Holiday tradition with 71,531 observers in 2,369 locations (2012-2013).  Between December 14th and January 5th, thousands of volunteers in all 50 states, Canada and the countries and territories south of Texas take to the field to count.  In Texas, alone, 2,700 volunteers participate in the count at 108 locations, 29 of which are in the high-season migration zone of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Gulf Coast.  Success is based on location, access to land, the number of consistent volunteers and the organization behind the event.  Given that, today’s count at San Bernard will again rank in the top five in the nation.

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

This morning, Sandy, Joanna and Susan are smiling at the optimum conditions: this day last year at Wolfweed Wetlands they faced over four inches of unending rain, low bird counts, and more mosquitoes than you could take to hell.  This morning, it’s cool and clear, and the wetland has a good level of water for wading birds, waterfowl, ducks, raptors, kingfishers and flycatchers.  The woods next to the wetland are alive with song from sparrows, thrushes and wrens.  And, within feet of the parking lot, there’s a sudden frenzy of sightings: an American Bald Eagle swoops down, catches a Coot and flies away, a Cooper’s Hawk lands momentarily in a tree near us, three Anhinga perch in wetland scrub nearby, and seven Sandhill Cranes fly overhead, sounding their sure arrival.  Everyone whips out their binoculars to look in different directions as if manning a foxhole.  Tad puts his Kowa TSN-2 spotting scope in place on tripod, and aims deep in the wetland for a raft of Coot.  He counts 50 plus two Plied-Billed Grebes.  Then, in less than two minutes, he counts another 180 Coot.  It’s 7:30 a.m., and the group is fixated high on the wetland’s observation deck.  Nineteen White Ibis pass by, pairs and pairs of Cormorants fly in front of us, a flock of Snow Geese fly overhead, and a Red Tailed Hawk can be heard in the woods.

When the flurry of activity subsides, Tad picks up his sticks, and we walk down the dike, stopping to count as more birds come in to view.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

We then dip into the woods off the dike, down a tall grass trail that takes us to Cocklebur Slough.  There, Susan places an owl box in a Hackberry tree.  Within minutes, the owl’s recorded hoot draws birds out of the brush.  They begin to congregate on the Hackberry.  It’s a simple and effective technique used to draw out small birds when the brush is impassable for observers.  Gathering around the box and near the slough are Lincoln’s Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Carolina Wren, Yellow-rumped Warbler, House Wren and Hermit Thrush.  Again, it takes four pairs of eyes in various directions to count the quick activity.

By 8:40 a.m., we’ve only covered one side of the wetland and counted 27 species, over one-third of the 63 species our group will count that day.

With the field counts complete by mid-afternoon, all the groups reconvene at headquarters to report their numbers to Ron and compare notes while enjoying fabulous gumbo provided by Friends of Brazoria Wildlife Refuge.

If you’d like to participate in next year’s bird count, the cost is free.  Visit www.audubon.org/conservation/join-christmas-bird-count

Coastal Heritage Preserve: Galveston’s Largest Nature Preserve

CHPHabitatTypesMap Coastal Heritage Preserve: Galvestons Largest Nature PreserveBy Janice Van Dyke Walden

With Galveston’s new home builds reaching a 10-year high in 2014, one organization is making sure that limited space on the island is left in a natural state for wildlife to thrive and future generations to enjoy.  In March, Artist Boat celebrated a victory when they dedicated the 367-acre Coastal Heritage Preserve off Settegast Road on the island’s West Bay.  It’s been an eight-year effort for the Galveston-based non-profit known for its eco-art kayak tours.  But, the effort paid off handsomely.  With so much competition for land, this is one of the island’s last large tracts, and a protected parcel only superseded in size by Galveston Island State Park.  For Artist Boat, it’s more than an outdoor classroom.

“I’ve been birding on Settegast Road for 19 years,” says Artist Boat’s founder and executive director Karla Klay.  “There’s no other place like this on the island.”

Flanked on two sides by new homes and channelized subdivisions, the Coastal Heritage Preserve contains four distinct coastal habitats.  Klay describes it like “somebody cut a window in the ecosystem.”

There’s 136 acres of salt marsh, 33 acres of tidal flats, 17 acres of estuarine and fresh water habitats, and an upland produced by coastal dune swales and ridges where one can experience a three-inch change in elevation.  From one of these ridges, Texas City is visible in the distance.

For Ted Lee Eubanks, who practices the valuing of natural assets through his company, Fermata, Inc., the Coastal Heritage Preserve represents what Galveston used to be like before development.  “It’s a good place to see the island’s natural heritage.  A lot of the original topography is still in place.”

While most large tracts on the island have become fragmented by development, the absence of roads, right-of-ways and utility lines on the Coastal Heritage Preserve allows migration between the four habitats, connecting nature’s network into a healthier system, allowing unusual species to exist.  Species like the Curved-billed Thrasher.

Eubanks was drawn to this spot in the early 1970’s on a tip that someone had seen the bird.  The unusual note about this is that Curved-billed Thrashers are not known to inhabit coastal marshes and uplands.  They’re most common in the thorny deserts of Mexico, west Texas, southern New Mexico and southern Arizona.  They are also long-term residents, staying in a specific spot for years.  Eubanks noticed this about the bird he observed.  “I’ve visited that land for years,” says Eubanks, “and he was always there along the prickly pears.”  Since it’s only one of two Curved-billed Thrashers Eubanks has ever seen on the Upper Texas Coast, he calls this residency “pretty remarkable.  Things like that seem to happen on that property.”

Yet, convincing the new owners of the land’s natural value was a more artful task.  They had plans to build a marina and an 800-unit channelized residential community.  While some islanders chose to engage in litigation, Klay and Artist Boat’s board chose to show Marquette Cos. of Chicago what an incomparable natural asset they had.  One evening in May 2008, Klay took Marquette’s Darrin Sloniger to a high point on the property to experience its beauty and vast overview.  In the distance they heard pilings being driven in the ground.  “What is that terrible noise?” asked Sloniger.  “That’s the noise you’re going to make for the next 25 years if you develop this land,” answered Klay.  She says now, “Thank God I was showing him his land through my eyes.”

Even though an appreciative relationship started that evening, Marquette held to the asking price of $15 million for the 367 acres.  That sum far exceeded any amount ever raised by the small non-profit.

Then, four months later, Nature and Wall Street played in Artist Boat’s favor: in September, Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, followed by the collapse of the U.S. housing market in November.  Suddenly, setting aside the large tract made good business sense to Marquette.  They gave Artist Boat time to seek funding, receive three major grants from state, federal and other sources, and secure the 367 acres for $7.7 million.

Artist Boat’s prize for hard work and not giving up now moves into the bigger task of restoration and management.  First, the land needs to regain its balance.

Prairie grasses, which were grazed to the point that the invasive Baccharis and Western Rag Weed took over, need a chance to come back.  Nate Johnson, in charge of habitat and stewardship for Artist Boat, hopes to provide those conditions with the help of volunteers who can remove the competitive invasives, allow the land to restore itself, and start native seedlings where needed.  With the land just now under Artist Boat’s care, the full extent of species has yet to be listed.  But for now, Johnson estimates that no less than 300 species exist on the Coastal Heritage Preserve.  That, alone, is plenty to learn from for years to come, and enough subject matter to fill a sketchbook.

To support Artist Boat and their habitat restoration projects, or to book a kayak tour, visit www.artistboat.org.

Galveston Bay Foundation to Reveal Bay’s Report Card

galvbaymarsh Galveston Bay Foundation to Reveal Bays Report Card

Sea Grass in Shell Midden along Texas coast

The Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF) and the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) will launch the first-ever Galveston Bay Report Card. Residents of the Galveston Bay Area will be able to see what overall grade the Bay received. This is the first time researchers have graded the health of the Bay and produced a report for the residents of the Houston-Galveston region. The report card calls attention to serious problems that put Galveston Bay at risk and provides recommendations on how people can help preserve the Bay.

GBF and HARC will share grades for the following categories: water quality, pollution, wildlife, habitat, human health risks, and coastal change.

Guest speakers include Louis R. Rigby, Mayor, City of La Porte, Laura Spanjian, Sustainability Director, City of Houston, Bob Stokes, President, Galveston Bay Foundation, Lisa Gonzalez, Vice President and COO, Houston Advanced Research Center

Free parking is available at the Sylvan Beach Pavilion. For more information, contact Anja Borski at aborski@galvbay.org or 281-332-3381 ext. 223.

49d8ffd7 08f7 43b0 880e e19c9b83eb16 Galveston Bay Foundation to Reveal Bays Report Card

Wednesday, August 12, 2015, at 10 a.m.

Sylvan Beach Pavilion

1 Sylvan Beach Drive

La Porte, TX 77571

Click Here to RSVP

Dr. Wes Tunnell

westunnell Dr. Wes Tunnell

Henry and Ann Hamman, on left, with Kathy and Wes Tunnell.

We recently caught up with Dr. Wes Tunnell, who provided the expertise for the Hamman Hall of Texas Coastal Ecology.

What’s the number one goal for the Hamman Hall of Texas Coastal Ecology at the Museum of Natural Science?

To teach people about the ecological treasures of the Texas coast and inspire them to want to sustain and conserve it for future generations.

So many people are moving to the coast, how do we maintain a balance between coastal ecology and residential and commercial development?

It is important for coastal planners to utilize the best available technologies and best available science when coastal areas are to be developed. We have many years of experience now on what we should not do, and we likewise have many new ways of doing things that will help preserve the environment. State and federal agencies have many environmental protocols to be followed, and environmental assessments and impact statements guide new developments with the best available technologies and science. There are also many new and successful restoration technologies being implemented that bring back degraded coastal habitats, and the Hamman Hall demonstrates a number of these, such as oyster reef and salt marsh restoration, in addition to species conservation stories about the Brown Pelican, Whooping Crane, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

How long have you been doing research on the coastal ecology of Texas?

I started my career as a student at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville) in the mid-1960s, so almost 50 years. Specifically and important for the Hamman Hall, I taught a graduate course in Texas Coastal Ecology for almost 25 years, where we took an annual trip of the entire coast. Over the years I have published over 100 scientific papers and book chapters, as well as 7 books, most of which are one Texas coastal ecology or Mexico coral reef ecology.

hamman Dr. Wes Tunnell

Hamman Hall Of Texas Coastal Ecology

When did the coastal prairies as we know them get their start?

They probably started coming into existence during the geologic time period known as the Pleistocene (Ice Age), between 2.5 million and about 11.5 thousand years ago. The current configuration of the Texas coast line began taking shape about 5,000 to 4,500 years before present, when sea level rise slowed its transgression across the continental shelf from about 45-50 miles east and 300-450 feet depth, starting about 18,000 years ago. When sea level reached its present position, about 2,800 to 2,500 years before present the barrier islands and peninsulas that we know today took shape, as well as the coastal plains, bays, estuaries, and lagoons behind them.

For the first time in a long while Texas is getting rain. In some cases too much, how will this affect the fishing along the Texas Coast?

Texas is known for great fluctuations in weather, and these environmental variations are natural processes that affect the coast and species that live here. Most organisms that live along the coast are adapted to this kind of changing environment, but long time droughts, as well as short-lived and longer flood periods will affect the distribution of marine life in the bay. The Texas coast is a natural laboratory for studying salinity effects on organisms that live in our bays and estuaries. This is one of the main topics explained in the new Hamman Hall. With lots of rainfall and freshwater inflow to the upper coast, we see lots of oyster reefs and salt marshes, but on the lower coast, where evaporation exceeds precipitation, the Laguna Madre has hypersaline conditions most of the time (salinities higher than the open ocean). Before humans protected our Texas natural inlets with stone jetties between the estuaries and open Gulf, we may have seen conditions on the lower coast like we more recently have seen in the Laguna Madre de Tamaulipas just south of the Rio Grande. During drought times, the inlets would close and the lagoon would begin to evaporate until nothing was left but very salty waters and brine shrimp. Then a hurricane would come along and dump huge quantities of rainfall on the land and into the lagoon, which would swell high enough to reopen the tidal inlets through the barrier islands and flush out the entire system. Slowly, invertebrates and fish would return, and peak harvests of shrimp and fish would be harvested for several years until the barrier island passes silted shut again and salinities rose too high for marine life. This boom or bust cycle may have been present in South Texas 100s of years ago. So, we may see some species change in abundance with all the current rainfall and flushing of the bays, but others will come back to levels normal to the environmental conditions that they prefer or find optimal.

Who influenced you the most and how?

Besides my Dad, who took me outside hunting and fishing a bunch when I was a kid and taught me how to enjoy and love nature, my major professor for my BS and MS degrees influenced my career choice the most. My Dad, who was a physician, told me he did not care what profession I chose, just as long as it was something I enjoyed doing and that I do the best I could at it. Dr. Allan Chaney, a Professor of Biology in Kingsville, taught me the joys of hands-on, field-oriented biology. He showed me that you learn it best when you are immersed in the natural world, not just studying it from books or labs. The famous early biologist/naturalist Louis Agassiz stated it similarly on an old board that still hangs on the wall at the famous Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory…”Study nature, not books.”

What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?

I love to go to the Gulf beaches, particularly Padre Island and Mexico beaches. Dr. Chaney got me inspired to travel Mexico beaches and other places, and I used to do that a lot until all the recent problems in Mexico. I still go to the Yucatan Peninsula regularly several times a year, and consider it the safest place in Mexico at present. I love all the old haciendas and history associated with them, as well as the cenotes (sink holes), and particularly the east coast state of Quintana Roo. The beaches, rocky shores, and coral reefs there, as well as coastal jungle, are some of my favorite travel places with my wife. I used to go there regularly with my graduate Coral Reef Ecology Class, but now I just go there to enjoy. At home and around Texas, I love visiting with my kids and grandkids, as well as collecting and enjoying old stuff from the mid-1800s, particularly Colt pistols, Texas and US Bowie knives, and scrimshaw.