HOUSTON - The Texas oyster season started quietly this year, while many of us have been riveted by presidential politics. Like so many others, the oyster business is struggling to make ends meet, during the pandemic.
The six month season started November 1. At sunrise, there are dozens of oyster boats plying Galveston Bay sailing for hours to get to oyster reefs that are ready to harvest.
As the boats circle the waters, pulling a dredge along the bottom, they scoop the delicacy onboard where the oystermen sift through the shells, with practiced eyes and hands, to find the ones worth keeping.
"They clean 'em up and make sure they're that perfect, single half-shell oyster," says Prestige Oysters boat captain Gezim Halili.
Texas oystermen are taking fewer shellfish to shore this season. The pandemic has closed or slowed so many restaurants and bars, demand is down dramatically. That means lost money for the crew, who would normally harvest a daily 30-sack limit of oysters. Now, the limit is just 15-20 sacks, if they can get out at all.
"The season's in full swing and these guys get to work only six months out of the year," says Prestige Oysters vice president Raz Halili, "They're accustomed to working five days a week, and catching their limits. It's really challenging."
Despite the lower demand for oysters, there's still a challenge to harvest the daily limit. That's nature, at work.
Oysters are fairly delicate creatures; too much freshwater, from rain runoff, or too much saltwater, and they don't survive. This season, Texas Parks and Wildlife has already restricted part of the bay, for the season, where there are not enough mature oysters to harvest.
But where the oysters are available, these crews will be on the water and thankful for the business they 'do' have while remaining hopeful for better days.