Gulf of Mexico
Alex Gutierrez, an oyster harvester, conducts routine maintenance on his boat Thursday in San Leon. Gutierrez said he and everyone else who depends on Gulf of Mexico oysters for their livelihood are going to suffer major economic losses after the state shut down several harvesting areas. Credit: Callaghan O'Hare for The Texas Tribune

TX - Oyster recall in Texas’ Galveston Bay is another blow to industry

Oyster harvesters on the Texas coast are facing twin threats to their way of life: The state shut down reefs to prevent overfishing and following recent reports of illness after people ate Texas oysters.

Alex Gutierrez is heartbroken. The 54-year-old oyster harvester from Galveston hasn’t been fishing in days, after a recent order by the Texas Department of State Health Services to recall oysters harvested from a certain area left him without work.

The state shut down the affected oyster reefs, and Gutierrez said it’s one more blow to oyster harvesters trying to keep their industry alive.

“La pérdida va a ser enorme,” Gutierrez said in Spanish — the loss will be enormous.

Gutierrez, who owns five boats and employs over a dozen people, said he and everyone else who depends on Gulf of Mexico oysters for their livelihood are going to suffer major economic losses. He said that many harvesters might be forced to sell their oyster fishing licenses to make ends meet.

Gutierrez has worked in the industry for over three decades. He is the captain of the boat El Santana and owns four other boats. He said that on a good day, each boat can harvest 30 sacks of oysters and collectively earn about $7,500. But since the Dec. 9 recall announcement, triggered by dozens of reports of illnesses and one hospitalization among people who ate Galveston Bay oysters, he hasn’t harvested a single oyster.

“If you saw the long faces, the frustration, the helplessness, the resentment that people feel for everything that is happening, that is what worries me,” he said.

The recall applies to shelled and shucked oysters harvested in a specific area in Galveston Bay from Nov. 17 through Dec. 7.

DSHS said in an email that it is investigating reports of about 57 suspected cases in Texas and more than 200 suspected cases across Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee of people who reported getting sick after consuming oysters from the area. Some of those people tested positive for norovirus, a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea, DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said in an email.

The agency said the harvest area will remain closed until Dec. 30 while state epidemiologists work with local health departments to investigate the cases. The health department is asking people experiencing any symptoms after eating oysters to contact their health care provider and note their exposure to oysters.

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