St. Charles Bay Shoreline Protection and Reef Creation

John Blaha
St. Charles Bay Shoreline Protection and Reef Creation
Trays of oyster shell placed strategically along the new St. Charles Bay Reef will be monitored periodically to measure new spat set. Lisa Laskowski photo.

CCA Texas, Building Conservation Trust, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation recently partnered to create 2,000 linear feet of oyster reef in St. Charles Bay. This reef is located just off of the Goose Island Big Tree unit and will provide shoreline protection and marine habitat for many species. The reef was constructed using recycled oyster shell through the Sink Your Shucks program at Harte Research Institute. The recycled shells were provided by Water Street Market and Groomers Seafood, both active members in Sink Your Shucks.

“The oyster reef will provide natural protection for coastal marsh habitat, benefitting a wide range of species that depend on coastal marsh for food and shelter; including shorebirds, water birds, and the federally endangered whooping crane,” commented Dr. Jennifer Pollack, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.Dr. Pollack continued, “Because this area is federally designated Whooping Crane critical habitat (by USFWS) and because of the extremely high erosion rates (2 acres in 20 years), it provides a unique opportunity to restore oyster reef habitat in a way that will also protect the marsh, enhance the estuarine ecosystem, and benefit sport fishing activities.”

The reef was constructed in seven segments which measure approximately 30 feet wide, 120 feet long and 1-foot high, covering an overall distance of 2,000 linear feet including the gaps between segments. Future plans also include public oyster bagging events which will place bagged oysters along the shore for additional protection and habitat enhancement.

Shortly after the construction of the reef, Dr. Pollack and her team placed sample trays of oysters in groups of eight on each segment. Additional control trays were placed along the same shoreline approximately 1-mile away on existing established oyster reef towards the inlet of the bay. Trays will initially be removed monthly and then quarterly and inventory taken on new spat that has set, and other marine organisms within the samples. These inventories and studies will be completed by Texas A&M students as part of their studies and degree programs.

“The location of this new reef offers an easily accessible walk-in fishing location for local and visiting recreational fishermen and enhances an already rich habitat that includes seagrasses and surrounding estuarine marsh,” commented CCA Texas’s Habitat Today for Fish Tomorrow Chairman Jay Gardner. Gardner continued, “This project will also offer an educational and community outreach effort to local schools as public bagging events are held to further enhance the project site and surrounding ecosystem.”

CCA Texas and Building Conservation Trust have contributed $530,000 to Texas coastal habitat projects year to date. This commitment and investment equates to $4,280,000 of coastal habitat work in Texas in 2017 alone. These efforts would not be possible without the efforts of our volunteers, local chapter boards and communities, and our partners across the state.

Big Steps Taken in the Management of Oyster Fishery

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approved recommendations from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department – Coastal Fisheries Division in the management of the commercial oyster fishery at its August 24, 2017 meeting. These changes were not possible without the support of the recreational fishing community, CCA Texas and other like organizations, and in some measure the commercial oyster industry itself. These new changes come into effect on November 1, 2017 and include:

  • Reduction in bag limit to 30 sacks per day
  • Reduction in undersize and dead shell to 5% total
  • Establishment of a 300 foot no-harvest boundary along all shorelines
  • Saturdays and Sundays are closed to oyster fishing
  • Permanent closure of minor bays including: Christmas Bay (Brazoria County); Carancahua Bay (Jackson/Matagorda Counties); Powderhorn Lake (Calhoun County); Hynes Bay (Calhoun County); St. Charles Bay (Aransas County); and South Bay (Cameron County).
These new measures along with those imposed in HB51, which passed in the recent legislature, are a big step to ensure oysters and healthy marine habitats are here for future generations.Thank you to everyone that showed up to public hearings, sent in written comment and were a part of the effort to see these changes through. The time is now to put the resource first.