AUSTIN (KXAN) — A clash over protecting Texas’ gulf ecosystems and protecting jobs came front and center in Austin Thursday.

The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife is closing some oyster harvesting areas along the gulf coast. That region produces nearly half of America’s $250 million dollar oyster industry, but the closures could mean a lot more than fewer fresh oysters on your plate.

Tony Jurisich’s family has been harvesting oysters for generations, but now, Jurisich says, their livelihood is under threat as TDPW decided to close three harvesting bays near Rockport.

“If they close all these areas where they have all this oyster crop you can’t harvest, and then these 25-30 boats that we have, you know 75-80 people, we’re gonna have to let them go,” Jurisich explained.

According to TDPW, right now only nine of the state’s 29 harvesting areas are open. The state and environmentalists say that more closures are necessary for the sustainability of these ecosystems.

“Oysters are unique in that they’re both a habitat and a fishery,” Christine Jensen, a Galveston Bay ecosystem leader with TDPW said. “And so it’s the mission of Parks and Wildlife to try to ensure that the fishery is sustainable and that the resource endures over time.”

The Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter also urged the state to approve the closing of the three bays. They said the closure of the bays is essential in preventing the region from losing its oyster population.

Still, in Austin on Thursday, hundreds of oystermen demanded the department keeps the bays open.

Joseph Ivic, a part-owner of Misho’s Oysters, said that though TDPW’s report says only 63 jobs will be lost, he believes there will be many more.

Jurisich worries that if more bays close, his family’s business will not survive.

TDPW said they understand the economic hardship, but they are concerned about long-term sustainability.

Benefits of oyster reefs

  • Help protect and clean coastline; oysters feed by filtering algae from water, and one oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day
  • Help provide habitats for other species to live and hide from predators
  • Help provide storm protection by breaking up waves, and keeps barriers along the coast strong