Positive Relationship between Freshwater Inflow and Oyster Abundance in Galveston Bay, Texas
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Analysis of fisheries-independent data for Galveston Bay, Texas, USA, since 1985 shows eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) frequently demonstrate increased abundance of market-sized oysters 1 to 2 years after years with increased freshwater inflow and decreased salinity. These analyses are compared to Turner's (Estuaries and Coasts 29:345-352, 2006) study using 3-year running averages of oyster commercial harvest since 1950 in Galveston Bay. Turner's results indicated an inverse relationship between freshwater inflow and commercial harvest with low harvest during years of high inflow and increased harvest during low flow years. Oyster populations may experience mass mortalities during extended periods of high inflow when low salinities are sustained. Conversely, oyster populations may be decimated during prolonged episodes of low flow when conditions favor oyster predators, parasites, and diseases with higher salinity optima. Turner's (Estuaries and Coasts 29:345-352, 2006) analysis was motivated by a proposed project in a basin with abundant freshwater where the goal of the project was to substantially increase freshwater flow to the estuary in order to increase oyster harvest. We have the opposite concern that oysters will be harmed by projects that reduce flow, increase salinity, and increase the duration of higher salinity periods in a basin with increasing demand for limited freshwater. Turner's study and our analysis reflect different aspects of the complex, important relationships between freshwater inflow, salinity, and oysters.