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Drought taking a toll on Texas oysters

An oyster was opened in Smith Point, Texas, where Galveston Bay’s increased salinity is expected to cut the shellfish harvest. An oyster was opened in Smith Point, Texas, where Galveston Bay’s increased salinity is expected to cut the shellfish harvest. (Pat Sullivan/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / August 1, 2011

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SMITH POINT, Texas - The third-worst drought in state history has killed any hope that Texas oysters would make up for the severe losses in Mississippi and Louisiana, where the shellfish were affected by last year’s oil spill and this year’s massive flooding.

Oysters are a $217 million industry on the Gulf Coast. Louisiana and Texas account for 70 percent of the eastern species found in the Gulf and along the East Coast. Pessimism about the harvest this season is growing.

This year, the drought has reduced the freshwater flow into Galveston Bay, where most of the state’s oysters are harvested, making the water so salty that predators and disease are thriving. Conditions are so dire that the deadly dermo parasite has been found in two reefs where it has never been seen before.

Combined with the losses in the southeastern states, consumers may be hard-pressed to find Gulf Coast oysters this year.

Shrimp and blue crabs also may be affected by the drought. Shrimp has the biggest share of the Texas commercial fishing business, with $236 million in revenue in 2009; oysters were next, with some $28 million in 2009, an off-year because of Hurricane Ike and other factors.

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