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Texas Oyster Industry on Life Support After Oil Spill

As oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico, oyster producers and processers here in Texas say they’re on life support, with hardly any product available for them to sell to restaurants and other consumers. As Jack Williams reports, they’re also worried about the long-term affects the oil might have on their business.



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“So this is usually a buzz of activity right about now?”

“Oh, absolutely. Normally you would see 30 to 40 shuckers in here, oysters would be lined-up here on the shucking
line, the conveyor belts running carrying the shells outside, 15 people working inside, rinsing and packing the product. And as you can see, it’s a totally vacant building.”

At Hillman Shrimp and Oyster just off of Highway 146 in Dickinson along Galveston Bay, Clifford Hillman is about
the only person left at his business. Hillman processes oysters, usually about $70,000 worth a day, and ships the meat all over the country. Now, because of the oil spill, most of the oyster beds off the Louisiana coast are closed.

“Since the Texas season closed at the end of April and we’re totally dependent upon Louisiana oysters. The lack
thereof had just literally got us shut down.” 

Hillman has had to lay-off about 150 workers at his plant in Dickinson and a larger one in Port Lavaca. He’s seen
his business drop about 95-percent in the last six seeks.

“We have not in Texas geographically been impacted by the touch of the oil, physically, the physical touch. But
I can assure you that the financial impact is severe.”

A few private oyster beds in Galveston Bay open up this week, but those beds aren’t enough to satisfy demand.  Since the spill, the cost of a pound of oyster meat has gone up about 80-percent, from  $6.50 a pound to more than $10.50 a pound. Down the road at Hillman’s Seafood, Mary Smith, who’s part of the Hillman family, says her phone won’t stop ringing, calls from people looking for oysters.

“Oh, at least 50 calls a day, from wholesalers to restaurants, seafood venders. Everybody is trying to find oysters these days and they’re just not here.”

In San Leon at Prestige Oysters, Lisa Halili stands on a deck overlooking Galveston Bay. There are a few workers here, but not nearly the number usually shucking oysters this time of year.

“For us, BP is the first named hurricane of the season, only we’re not getting saltwater, we’re getting oil and it’s destroying everything.”

Back with Clifford Hillman, he says he hopes business returns next year, but isn’t so sure about that either.

“My greatest concern I guess at this point is what the hydrocarbons in the water and or the dispersants that they’re
using may do to the reproductive capability of the oyster.” 

He says if that’s affected, it may be a long time before the Texas oyster industry recovers.

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Jack Williams

Executive Producer for Daily News

Jack is back in Houston after some time away working in public radio and television in Lincoln, Nebraska. Before leaving for the Midwest, he worked in various roles at Houston Public Media from 2000-2016, including reporting, hosting and anchoring. Jack has also worked in commercial news radio in Houston, Austin...

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