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November 24, 1998     (512) 463-0300

Joint Hearing in Houston

HOUSTON - The Texas Senate Natural Resources Subcommittee on Human Health of the Oyster Industry and the Texas House Committee on State Recreational Resources held a public hearing Tuesday, November 24, at the University of Houston Clear Lake Campus. The subcommittee was created in response to the impact of closing Galveston Bay to oyster harvesting due to bacterial illness.

Oyster production was halted for 3 months this year by the Texas Department of Health. Over 400 cases of illness across ten states were reported to the state's health department due to 'vibrio parahaemolyticus'. Texas oyster harvesters want state officials to investigate the origin of the bacteria, which is suspected to have come from water discharged from ships' ballasts when entering the bay. The strain of bacteria which caused the outbreak of illness has never been detected in Galveston Bay, but is known to exist in Japan, India, and Taiwan. Due to high salinity and high water temperatures related to the drought, the bacteria levels could have increased to dangerous levels.

Invited testimony included William R. Archer III, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Health; and Don Kraemer, Associate Director of the United States Food and Drug Administration, Office of Seafood.

Various public testimony included Dr. John Schwartz, professor of microbiology at Texas A&M University at Galveston; Lisa Halili, President of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council; and Ben Nelson of Jerry's Seafood in Smith Point.

Members of the Legislature present were Senators Jon Lindsay of Houston, who chaired the committee, Jerry Patterson of Pasadena, Mike Galloway of The Woodlands, and Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls; and Representatives Zeb Zbranek of Winnie, and Patricia Gray of Galveston.

The committee will report its findings to the 76th Legislature which convenes January 12, 1999.

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