Managing public oyster reefs: Texas experience.
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In recent years the Texas oyster harvest has tended to increase in quantity and value, comprising a larger percentage of the total U.S. landings. There has been concern that the public reefs cannot continue to support a large fishery. A transition from management by the legislature to management by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPWC) has been underway. The TPWC has closed the oyster season several times in the past few years. In August 1987, the 1987-1988 season was closed because data from a relatively new sampling program indicated that market oysters were too sparse for harvesting without depleting public reefs. Oystermen, however, believed that there were ample oysters for harvesting and that oystering would cease before stocks were endangered. A group of oyster dealers and fishermen filed suit against the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in December 1987. The judge ruled in their favor and ordered the immediate opening of the season - thus creating an adversarial position between oystermen and the TPWD. The Texas Legislature mandated that the TPWD develop an oyster management plan that would consider socio-economic impacts as well as biology and law enforcement. If such a plan had been in effect in 1987, conflicts between oystermen and the TPWD might have been reduced, if not eliminated. We offer several suggestions for consideration in developing an effective management plan. Basically, they stress the need for input from oystermen and dealers as well as from the scientific community.