A surge of freshwater runoff brought on by heavy spring rains could cause problems for Galveston Bay shrimp and oyster harvesters this season, according to new predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Scientists say the influx of freshwater pushed many young shrimp out of the bay earlier in their lifecycle than usual in search of favorable salinity levels, possibly leading to smaller shrimp. Higher freshwater levels also wiped out many oyster reefs. Unlike shrimp, oysters thrive in higher salinity levels and are not mobile.
NOAA predicts the 2015-16 catch of brown shrimp could be about 30 percent below the historical average of 25.7 million pounds. The prediction is the lowest for the area since the 1980s.
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The Galveston County Daily News reports that area officials have declared a state of emergency for the industry as a result of the rain, creating opportunities for possible funding to help in the recovery.
Mary Smith, of the Hillman's wholesale and retail seafood market in Dickinson, said the market will have to look to Louisiana shrimpers if the season is far enough below average.
"The signs aren't looking good," Smith said. "But there are always up years and down years for us. You can never really tell how it is going to be."
But more shrimp may live to spawn and create a larger catch next year as a result of fewer being caught this year, said Lance Robinson, deputy director of the Coastal Fisheries Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife. The floodwaters also bring a surge of nutrients that could fertilize the bottom of the bay's food chain. Robinson predicts a recovery in the oyster harvest in a few years.
"It's like adding fertilizer into the system," Robinson said. "Long-term there is a lot of value there and I think we will see that soon."