Feldman & Feldman File Suit Against Chamber Liberty County Navigation District

Originally Published by The Houston Chronicle

Oyster-fishing businesses have brought their battle with a Galveston Bay navigation district to federal court, alleging that the governmental body violated their constitutional rights by issuing a 23,000-acre oyster-bed lease to a single fishing company.

“It was nothing but a corrupt power play to corner the oyster market,” said Cristen D. Feldman, whose firm represents four oyster companies that own overlapping state-issued leases to the reefs.

Those companies – Hannah Reef; Shrimps R Us; Michael Ivic, the owner of Misho’s Oyster Co.; and Ivo Slabic, the owner of Duba Seafood – say the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District and five commissioners denied them equal protection and violated their rights.

The lawsuit, at least the third in a dispute that has raged since 2014, alleges the district issued the lease for the underwater oyster beds to one company and failed to give other oyster companies notice or an opportunity to compete.

Navigation district officials and their lawyers at the Lloyd Gosselink firm in Austin declined comment.

The navigation district’s role is to raise money to improve and administer waterways and commerce, but it doesn’t normally oversee the cultivation and harvesting of oysters, mussels and clams in state waters, Feldman said. That authority falls to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, which had issued the leases for the reefs.

The federal lawsuit accuses district commissioners of holding closed-door meetings and brokering a “novel” deal in 2014 with Ben Nelson, owner of Jeri’s Seafood, and his son-in-law, Chambers County Justice of the Peace Tracy Woody.

Nelson died of heart failure in April, and Woody now has control of the company they jointly created, Sustainable Oysters Resource Management (STORM).

Woody objected to Feldman’s portrayal, saying that if his lease were executed in violation of the state’s open meetings act, why did the group of fishermen withdraw their open-meetings lawsuit?

Oyster-reef bed leases in Galveston Bay are valued at $40,000 to $70,000 per acre, said Raz Halili, a co-owner of Hannah Reef. But STORM bought each acre from the navigation district for $1.50, according to Halili’s lawyers.

STORM fishermen began issuing “trespassing” notices to boats that crossed into its waters, depriving the other companies of access to their own leases, they say.

STORM owners attempted unsuccessfully to persuade state legislators last session to pass a bill authorizing navigation districts to take over Texas Parks and Wildlife’s authority to regulate oyster beds.

Woody portrayed himself as a protector of the oyster beds and small oyster fishermen against the companies suing the navigation district.

He said the lease for his company, STORM, does not create a monopoly. He disputed the price per acre, saying it is $1.50 while the oysters are cultivating and will go up to $3 per acre once they’re ready to harvest.

In September, state District Judge Lonnie Cox in Galveston invalidated the navigation district’s 23,000-acre lease to STORM, which the oyster fishing companies said illegally monopolized the industry and kept a valuable part of the bay from other oystermen. The case is awaiting a trial that will decide damages.

A state appellate court already has ruled in a separate case that the navigation district lacks authority to lease oyster beds.

Cris Feldman of Feldman & Feldman Wins Major Legal Victory for Texas Fishing Rights

Originally Published by The Houston Chronicle

In the firms 12th story conference room, Houston Attorney Cris Feldman focuses on the rest of the battle after a major victory in the historic legal battle over oyster rights in Galveston Bay.

Feldman used state records over several decades old to prove fishing rights belong to all Texans.

After Feldman’s constitutional arguments, Galveston State District Judge Lonnie Cox voided the controversial lease that created the firestorm along the Texas Coast. The ruling makes it clear the Chambers Liberty County Navigation District had no right to lease 23,000 acres of Galveston Bay bottom to a company called S.T.O.R.M.

“For two years this illegal lease has added to the heartaches of the good people who make their livelihood harvesting for oysters. Good people have been hurt. Their life’s work threatened. Judge Cox delivered justice for the People of Texas”, says Cris Feldman, partner in the Feldman and Feldman law firm. “We are elated to restore the people’s right to Galveston Bay.”

Feldman will now seek legal fees and pursue financial damages for oyster fishermen who were threatened with trespassing charges if they entered the area.

“This lease was born out of a corrupt process, and even victory cannot recover the damage done to the oyster industry in Galveston Bay”, says Feldman. “For the last two years, oyster companies have been kept from transplanting oysters for public safety, or from investing in reefs. The damage will be felt for years.”

Feldman is readying for the next court battle in December in the oyster fight, but Lisa Halili of Prestige Oyster says the firm has already delivered a miracle.

“When I took on the fight against S.T.O.R.M. I asked God to put the right people in my life for the right reason. We trusted Cris to lead the fight for right. We all owe him a tremendous debt.”

Cris Feldman of Feldman & Feldman Leads Fight in High Profile Oysters Showdown

Originally Published by The Houston Chronicle

A rancorous two-year feud over control of the oyster business in Galveston Bay began on a summer day in 2014 when Michael “Misho” Ivic, owner of Misho’s Oyster Co. in San Leon, paid a visit to an old friend and fellow oyster dealer.

In the office cafeteria of Jeri’s Seafood on Smith Point, owner Ben Nelson announced: “I have a lease, and all this is going to change.”

Unbeknownst to other oyster fishermen in the bay, Nelson and his son-in-law, Chambers County Justice of the Peace Tracy Woody, had leased 23,000 acres of bay bottom that included some of the choicest oyster reefs.

The news severed long friendships among the three largest oyster operations in Galveston Bay – Ivic’s, Nelson’s, and another owned by Lisa and Johnny Halili – and spawned lawsuits that have brought uncertainty to an industry decimated by years of bad weather and predators.

Leases had typically been issued by Texas Parks and Wildlife, but Nelson and Woody had formed Sustainable Oysters Resource Management LLC, or STORM, to lease the land from the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District. Such districts raise money to improve and administer waterways.

The STORM owners also tried unsuccessfully to persuade legislators in the last session to pass a bill authorizing navigation districts to take over Texas Parks and Wildlife’s authority to regulate oyster beds.

The navigation district approved the lease April 15, 2014, following closed meetings with Woody, the navigation district’s general manager said in a deposition. STORM’s opponents say the meetings, and Woody’s presence in them, violated open-meetings laws.

The STORM lease included three oyster beds leased from Parks and Wildlife by Johnny Halili, owner of Prestige Oysters, Inc., two by Ivic and one by Ivo Slabic, owner of Gulf Coast Oysters. Halili had spent millions of dollars rebuilding the reefs on his leases.

The idea that a single company would control half of the oyster grounds in Galveston Bay at first seemed incredible to Ivic.

“I really thought he was joking,” Ivic said.

A week later, he said, Nelson gave him an ultimatum. The STORM lease voided the state leases, he said. Ivic could join STORM or Nelson would take over Ivic’s state lease. “You really need to decide. If you are not with us, you are against us,” Ivic recalled him saying.

Nelson died of heart failure in April. Woody now has control of STORM and he says he has no regrets.

Nelson had a reputation as a tough businessman, but he had been good friends with Ivic and Halili for decades. “All three of us were taking care of each other as much as we could,” Ivic said.

When Ivic was unable to get a permit for one of his boats, Nelson sold him one of his. When Nelson was unable to find oyster shuckers one year, Halili sent all his shuckers to Nelson.

“This was a pure friendly act,” Ivic recalled. “This is something I wouldn’t do, but Johnny (Halili) did. That was really a deep gesture of friendship.”

Lisa Halili, Johnny Halili’s wife, remembers seeing messages from Ivic on her cell phone as she and her husband tied up a skiff in Louisiana. After speaking with Ivic, she said, “I was shocked, my head was spinning. … I felt like the whole world turned upside down.”

‘The law is clear’

Ivic, Slabic and the Halilis sued STORM in Galveston County district court. Meanwhile Texas Parks and Wildlife sued STORM and the navigation district in Travis County district court. Both argued that the navigation district lacked the authority to lease out oyster beds.

“The bottom line is that Jeri’s Seafood in Chambers County decided it wanted Galveston Bay to itself, went into a back room with cronies, cut a political deal with their buddies, and declared itself sheriff of all things oyster in Galveston Bay, in complete violation of Texas law,” said Chris Feldman, attorney for Halili, Ivic and Slabic.

STORM’s attorney, James Galbraith, said the law is on his client’s side. Galbraith said it is undisputed that the navigation district owns the land. “We feel the law is clear that oysters belong to the land owner,” he said.

‘Difficult situation’

So far, STORM has fared badly in courts outside Chambers County. The biggest blow came in July, when a three-judge panel of the Third Court of Appeals in Austin sided with Texas Parks and Wildlife, saying that the navigation district lacked the authority to lease out oyster beds. Galbraith said STORM has asked for a rehearing by the six justices who comprise the full Third Court of Appeals.

In the case filed in Galveston, state District Judge Lonnie Cox issued an injunction prohibiting STORM from interfering with other oyster boats. Cox will hear arguments Monday on whether to grant summary judgment to the plaintiffs. An appeals court has thwarted attempts to get at least part of the case moved to Chambers County.

Galbraith, the STORM attorney, said that as of Friday, he was waiting to see if the Texas Supreme Court would hear an appeal from the appellate court.

The STORM controversy has dealt another blow to an already-staggering industry. Hurricane Ike destroyed at least 50 percent of the oyster beds in 2008. Seven years of drought subsequently increased salinity in the bay, endangering oyster habitat and allowing predators to thrive. And two years of heavy rain flooded the bay with oyster-killing fresh water.

Then came the STORM lawsuits and the moratorium on oyster permits, said Clifford Hillman, owner of Hillman Shrimp and Oyster Co. in Dickinson and chairman of the state Parks and Wildlife Oyster Advisory Work Group. “Not much area in the bay had live oysters on them to begin with,” Hillman said. “When you have those events back to back, it’s a difficult situation.”

‘Power grab’

Hillman said that he attended meetings of navigation districts in the Gulf Coast counties of Calhoun and Matagorda, learning that STORM had approached districts about securing rights to oyster beds there.

Woody said he was assisting local oystermen interested in entering into a lease with their navigation districts to combat the market power of the Halilis, who have the largest oyster operation in Galveston Bay.

STORM has no support among those in the oyster industry, Hillman said. “Without question he is on his own,” he said. “It was nothing more than a power grab to control the oyster industry in the state of Texas.”

Although Nelson was a hard man, Lisa Halili believes he would have given up on STORM if he had lived.

Woody and Nelson began negotiating with the navigation district in 2010 because they feared that Texas Parks and Wildlife was considering revoking all oyster leases and they needed to find an alternative. “We figured we had better look around and see who else owned land and get permits to grow oysters,” Woody said.

‘Wrong path’

He accuses Ivic and the Halilis of overusing the oyster reefs and Texas Parks and Wildlife of poor stewardship. STORM will revive the oyster industry with better management, Woody said.

Both Ivic and Lisa Halili said Texas Parks and Wildlife has done a good job of reviving the oyster beds. Because the agency closed East Bay to oyster fishing for the last two years, oysters are expected to be abundant when the season opens in November, Lisa Halili said.

Woody said Ivic and the Halilis should focus their ire on Texas Parks and Wildlife for issuing them invalid leases. “I like Misho, and I’m sorry he chose the wrong path,” Woody said. He was less kind to the Halilis, whom he accused of stealing his customers.

Lisa Halili described Woody as untrustworthy.

The cost in terms of legal fees and lost business has been high for both sides. Woody declined to say how much he’s spent in legal fees, but Lisa Halili said her company has spent close to $800,000, not including economic loses.

Slabic’s son, Jure, said their company has suffered losses in the six figures. He added, “All of the leaseholders who rely on this are hurt incredibly.”

Bitter Feud Rages Over Control of Galveston Bay’s Oysters

Originally Published by The Houston Chronicle

A rancorous two-year feud over control of the oyster business in Galveston Bay began on a summer day in 2014 when Michael “Misho” Ivic, owner of Misho’s Oyster Co. in San Leon, paid a visit to an old friend and fellow oyster dealer.

Unbeknownst to other oyster fishermen in the bay, Nelson and his son-in-law, Chambers County Justice of the Peace Tracy Woody, had leased 23,000 acres of bay bottom that included some of the choicest oyster reefs.

The news severed long friendships among the three largest oyster operations in Galveston Bay – Ivic’s, Nelson’s, and another owned by Lisa and Johnny Halili – and spawned lawsuits that have brought uncertainty to an industry decimated by years of bad weather and predators.

Leases had typically been issued by Texas Parks and Wildlife, but Nelson and Woody had formed Sustainable Oysters Resource Management LLC, or STORM, to lease the land from the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District. Such districts raise money to improve and administer waterways.

The STORM owners also tried unsuccessfully to persuade legislators in the last session to pass a bill authorizing navigation districts to take over Texas Parks and Wildlife’s authority to regulate oyster beds.

The navigation district approved the lease April 15, 2014, following closed meetings with Woody, the navigation district’s general manager said in a deposition. STORM’s opponents say the meetings, and Woody’s presence in them, violated open-meetings laws.

The STORM lease included three oyster beds leased from Parks and Wildlife by Johnny Halili, owner of Prestige Oysters, Inc., two by Ivic and one by Ivo Slabic, owner of Gulf Coast Oysters. Halili had spent millions of dollars rebuilding the reefs on his leases.

The idea that a single company would control half of the oyster grounds in Galveston Bay at first seemed incredible to Ivic.

“I really thought he was joking,” Ivic said.

A week later, he said, Nelson gave him an ultimatum. The STORM lease voided the state leases, he said. Ivic could join STORM or Nelson would take over Ivic’s state lease. “You really need to decide. If you are not with us, you are against us,” Ivic recalled him saying.

Nelson died of heart failure in April. Woody now has control of STORM and he says he has no regrets.

Nelson had a reputation as a tough businessman, but he had been good friends with Ivic and Halili for decades. “All three of us were taking care of each other as much as we could,” Ivic said.

When Ivic was unable to get a permit for one of his boats, Nelson sold him one of his. When Nelson was unable to find oyster shuckers one year, Halili sent all his shuckers to Nelson.

“This was a pure friendly act,” Ivic recalled. “This is something I wouldn’t do, but Johnny (Halili) did. That was really a deep gesture of friendship.”

Lisa Halili, Johnny Halili’s wife, remembers seeing messages from Ivic on her cell phone as she and her husband tied up a skiff in Louisiana. After speaking with Ivic, she said, “I was shocked, my head was spinning. … I felt like the whole world turned upside down.”

‘The law is clear’

Ivic, Slabic and the Halilis sued STORM in Galveston County district court. Meanwhile Texas Parks and Wildlife sued STORM and the navigation district in Travis County district court. Both argued that the navigation district lacked the authority to lease out oyster beds.

“The bottom line is that Jeri’s Seafood in Chambers County decided it wanted Galveston Bay to itself, went into a back room with cronies, cut a political deal with their buddies, and declared itself sheriff of all things oyster in Galveston Bay, in complete violation of Texas law,” said Chris Feldman, attorney for Halili, Ivic and Slabic.

STORM’s attorney, James Galbraith, said the law is on his client’s side. Galbraith said it is undisputed that the navigation district owns the land. “We feel the law is clear that oysters belong to the land owner,” he said.

‘Difficult situation’

So far, STORM has fared badly in courts outside Chambers County. The biggest blow came in July, when a three-judge panel of the Third Court of Appeals in Austin sided with Texas Parks and Wildlife, saying that the navigation district lacked the authority to lease out oyster beds. Galbraith said STORM has asked for a rehearing by the six justices who comprise the full Third Court of Appeals.

In the case filed in Galveston, state District Judge Lonnie Cox issued an injunction prohibiting STORM from interfering with other oyster boats. Cox will hear arguments Monday on whether to grant summary judgment to the plaintiffs. An appeals court has thwarted attempts to get at least part of the case moved to Chambers County.

Galbraith, the STORM attorney, said that as of Friday, he was waiting to see if the Texas Supreme Court would hear an appeal from the appellate court.

The STORM controversy has dealt another blow to an already-staggering industry. Hurricane Ike destroyed at least 50 percent of the oyster beds in 2008. Seven years of drought subsequently increased salinity in the bay, endangering oyster habitat and allowing predators to thrive. And two years of heavy rain flooded the bay with oyster-killing fresh water.

Then came the STORM lawsuits and the moratorium on oyster permits, said Clifford Hillman, owner of Hillman Shrimp and Oyster Co. in Dickinson and chairman of the state Parks and Wildlife Oyster Advisory Work Group. “Not much area in the bay had live oysters on them to begin with,” Hillman said. “When you have those events back to back, it’s a difficult situation.”

‘Power grab’

Hillman said that he attended meetings of navigation districts in the Gulf Coast counties of Calhoun and Matagorda, learning that STORM had approached districts about securing rights to oyster beds there.

Woody said he was assisting local oystermen interested in entering into a lease with their navigation districts to combat the market power of the Halilis, who have the largest oyster operation in Galveston Bay.

STORM has no support among those in the oyster industry, Hillman said. “Without question he is on his own,” he said. “It was nothing more than a power grab to control the oyster industry in the state of Texas.”

Although Nelson was a hard man, Lisa Halili believes he would have given up on STORM if he had lived.

Woody and Nelson began negotiating with the navigation district in 2010 because they feared that Texas Parks and Wildlife was considering revoking all oyster leases and they needed to find an alternative. “We figured we had better look around and see who else owned land and get permits to grow oysters,” Woody said.

‘Wrong path’

He accuses Ivic and the Halilis of overusing the oyster reefs and Texas Parks and Wildlife of poor stewardship. STORM will revive the oyster industry with better management, Woody said.

Both Ivic and Lisa Halili said Texas Parks and Wildlife has done a good job of reviving the oyster beds. Because the agency closed East Bay to oyster fishing for the last two years, oysters are expected to be abundant when the season opens in November, Lisa Halili said.

Woody said Ivic and the Halilis should focus their ire on Texas Parks and Wildlife for issuing them invalid leases. “I like Misho, and I’m sorry he chose the wrong path,” Woody said. He was less kind to the Halilis, whom he accused of stealing his customers.

Lisa Halili described Woody as untrustworthy.

The cost in terms of legal fees and lost business has been high for both sides. Woody declined to say how much he’s spent in legal fees, but Lisa Halili said her company has spent close to $800,000, not including economic loses.

Slabic’s son, Jure, said their company has suffered losses in the six figures. He added, “All of the leaseholders who rely on this are hurt incredibly.”

Feldman & Feldman Defends the Public’s Right to Galveston Bay

Originally Published by The Houston Chronicle

Galveston Bay has been a hub for shrimpers, fishermen and oyster harvesters for decades. The area accounts for an estimated income of $1 billion per year, which is one-third of the state’s commercial fishing revenue.

The bay is also the only place in Texas where state-issued leases for the commercial harvesting of oysters have been issued. While the most of the reefs are open to the public, a few private leases control 2,321 acres of them.

Oystermen must invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to run their businesses every year, from purchasing and maintaining boats and equipment, paying crew members, harvesting in the six-month window of the season and participating in producing cultch, which is fossilized shell and coral that provides points of attachment for the oysters on the reefs, to maintain the oyster population.

Oysters need fresh water to thrive. The past seven years have produced draught conditions that have drastically reduced the oyster population on the reefs. The recent rains were good news for the oyster industry, and Governor Abbott recently added Galveston County to his list for disaster relief after Tropical Storm Bill moved through on June 15.

The lack of fresh water and the havoc caused by the tropical storm are not the only factors that have the Galveston Bay oyster industry stirred up, however.

LAWSUIT FILED

In April 2014, the Chambers – Liberty Counties Navigation District (CLCND) leased 23,000 acres of the reefs to Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management, LLC (STORM) for $1.50 per acre in a 30-year lease. Opponents of this lease, which consist of oyster fishermen and wholesalers, are questioning the legalities of the transaction. A lawsuit has been filed naming STORM and the CLCND as defendants.

The plaintiffs, including Prestige Oysters, which claims the title of, “The World’s Largest Oyster Shipping Company,” are being represented by former Houston City Attorney David Feldman. STORM has tapped several Austin lobbyists, including former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch, to fight for their cause.

According to Feldman, the lawsuit is based on CLCND’s violation of the Open Meetings Act and the claim that STORM’s lease is unlawful, and therefore, null and void.

According to the Texas Attorney General’s website, “The Texas Open Meetings Act represents a commitment to the people of Texas that the public’s business will be conducted in the open. It is a legal guarantee of a transparent government.” Since no call for bids regarding the leased land was issued nor was the issue ever listed on CLCND’s Meeting Agendas, the plaintiffs are citing a violation of the Act.

In a letter dated August 15 2014 to the CLCND, William Warnick, General Counsel of the Texas General Land Office (TGLO), stated in part, “It is our position that since the CLCND lacked the authority to enter into this Lease, the Lease appears to be invalid and STORM cannot rely on the Lease as granting any rights to act on the CLCND property.”

NAVIGATION ISSUES ONLY

CLCND purchased thousands of acres in the Bay from TGLO in the 1950s; however, official documents state that the purchase would grant CLCND authority over navigation issues only. Any private leases that involve oyster reefs must be entered into with the State of Texas through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to be considered legal, and many fishermen and their companies have done just that.

To date, TPWD has not made any moves to reverse STORM’s lease. The main reason for this is lack of funding for litigation.

According to District 23 State Representative Wayne Faircloth, the funding problem can be traced back to 2011 when TPWD’s budget was slashed 26% to make up for the gap left when Obama’s Stimulus Plan funding ended in 2010.

Faircloth said that legislation had been passed before the Legislative Session went into recess that will help with this problem. “A portion of sporting goods sales is supposed to go to TPWD, but wasn’t. We were able to get legislation in place to remedy that,” Faircloth said.

Faircloth says that he is also going to work with the Governor’s Office to secure some of the Disaster Relief funding for the oyster trade.

“The Bay and everything in it is a public resource that anyone who puts a boat in the water can use. Anything influenced by tidal waters is a public resource. It all belongs to the people of Texas,” Faircloth said. “If the resource is prolific, then everybody benefits.”

The reefs have another man-made problem: the oyster fishermen and companies that oppose STORM have not been contributing cultch to the beds.

“Why would other companies invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to propagate the reefs when they don’t know if they’ll be able to harvest them?” said Prestige Oysters spokesperson Wayne Dolcefino.

The lack of cultch, fresh water and tidal disturbances from the weather are being felt in the restaurants around Galveston Bay. Stingaree Restaurant and Marina, located in Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, has had to turn away customers seeking oysters. Owner Jim Vratis’s oyster boat, “Miss Kim,” sits in its dock beside the restaurant, unused.

STORM VIEW

Tracy Woody, who along with his father-in-law Ben Nelson, formed STORM in 2014, says that they are trying to revive the oyster industry, not destroy it.

“Wild public Reefs, especially in Galveston Bay are in the worst condition they have been in over 60 years. This did not happen overnight. They have been on the decline for approximately 30 years,” said Woody.

“The commercial oyster fishery doesn’t have to be part of the problem. It should and must be part of the solution to restore and make this fishery sustainable again.

“This will be best achieved by using private property rights and free-market principles. Harvesters will become farmers of oysters by allowing them to invest capital to build reefs and grow their own crops on a piece of submerged land where the farmer can protect his investment from the free-for-all harvesting techniques exercised on wild public reefs.

“This would allow the oyster fishery to become less dependent on wild public reefs, and then the state could implement area closure rotations for natural reef restoration to occur without economic hardship on the fishermen.” Woody stated.

According to the STORM website, “… CLCND granted a lease to S.T.O.R.M. on 23,000 acres of its submerged bottoms for the planting and growing of oysters to promote marine commerce and the restoration and enhancement of this vital estuary.

“S.T.O.R.M. will begin building reefs as soon as permits are issued from all the necessary federal, state and local government agencies that are involved. S.T.O.R.M. not only intends to invest its own money in this venture but also plans to seek out other like-minded oyster fishermen to sublease bottoms so they may have pride in ownership and learn and practice proper sustainable resource management.”

Woody has had to defend STORM to its opponents for over a year.

“After carefully analyzing comments made by storms opposition, which mainly consist of the Halilis, owners of Prestige Oysters, their family, their employees, and their business associates, I have realized the fundamental difference between us is that [Prestige Oysters and their supporters] think that a commercial oyster license is a right that authorizes them to harvest from state owned submerged land, and on non-state owned submerged land, even without the land owner’s permission,” Woody stated. “A right to continue the status quo harvesting practices to the detriment of the resource, all in the name of making a living, even while the landowner protest the destruction on his land. A right that is superior to all other user groups of the bays.

“We at STORM believe a commercial oyster license is a privilege, not a right. With that privilege comes a duty to sustainably conserve oyster resources and to protect the reefs they grow on so that all user groups may enjoy the benefits and the improved quality of life that healthy oyster reefs provide. A duty to honor and respect landowner rights to protect the resource on his land.

“A commercial oyster license is always used to make a living, but that does not give the holder of the license a superior right over non-commercial users that have a right to enjoyment of healthy estuary that is due in part to abundant oyster resources and the ecosystem services they provide,” Woody added.

CLAIMS LEASES ILLEGAL

Woody asserts that TPWD has been issuing illegal leases for years because the privately held leases do not obtain permission from the landowner, which he says is CLCND.

“TPWD, by issuing permits, allows third parties to plant rock and cultivate private oyster beds on Navigation District land without the landowner’s consent. TPWD allows itself to plant rock and cultivate oyster beds on Navigation District land.

Yet TPWD denies the Navigation District and its authorized agent necessary permits to plant rock and cultivate a private oyster bed on its own land,” Woody said, citing TPWD Code 61.022(a): “No person may hunt or catch by any means or method or possess a wildlife resource at any time and at any place covered by this chapter unless the owner of the land, submerged land, or water, or the owner’s agent, consents.”

“CLCND has a constitutional right and duty to preserve and conserve all natural resources to improve the District and land adjacent to the District. CLCND chose STORM to accomplish their constitutional duty,” Woody said.

“We and the CLCND have 100% followed the laws of this state from the very first thought that we might be able to lease submerged land from the Navigation District to build reefs and cultivate oysters and will continue until we achieve our mission of Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management,” he concluded.

Woody has appealed to legislators for help. State Representative for District 22 Joe Deshotel sponsored HB 3335 during the last legislative session that was designed to further STORM’s mission. Since no action was taken on the Bill before the recess, it is now dead unless someone else introduces it again when the legislature picks up again.

Rep. Faircloth doesn’t see that happening. “Legislature doesn’t have any business getting involved in this issue,” he said.

If the State continues to be unable to take action favoring either side, then this fishy issue will have to be settled in court. In the meantime, oyster lovers may have to take a drive out of state to find dinner.