GALVESTON, Texas (FOX 26) - There's gold under those shiny waves– gold in the form of Oysters. But the battle over who gets to harvest them is leading to testy exchanges between oystermen on the water and dockside.
The fight is entering a new phase. Today Halili's Prestige Oyster and other oyster companies filed a federal lawsuit not against Woody, but against the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District and its board members. The suit alleges they cut a backroom deal to get a sweetheart lease on 23,000 acres of oyster reefs with a group called Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management or STORM. Some of those beds are under state leases and being fished an maintained by the companies suing.
“Why did they engage in those secret negotiations with Jeri's Seafood? Who's idea was it in the first place?" said Attorney David Feldman,
According to the suit, the District had no authority to lease the beds in the first place.
“Everything that is under the water, whatever is touched by the tide, belongs to the state and each state has an agency that governs use and harvesting,” said Michael Ivic, one of the plaintiffs.
But STORM claims the reefs are being over-fished and the Galveston Bay oyster population is in jeopardy. The group claims its mission is to use "private property rights and free market principles to rebuild and conserve sustainably the Texas oyster resource without tax payer money." In case you were wondering STORM is run by Tracy Woody who also owns Jeri's Seafood.
There are literally billions of dollars and lots of livelihoods at stake here. Expect all sides to keep on fighting.