AUSTIN — Between Dec. 14 and 18, Texas Game Wardens in Calhoun and Aransas Counties led a multi-agency law enforcement surge operation targeting illegal commercial oyster harvesting and possession along the coastal bend. “Operation Half Shell” consisted of patrols by Texas Game Wardens in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, and the Aransas County Sheriff’s Office.

“The effort employed by our game wardens and federal partners during this operation to protect these resources is truly inspiring and extremely noteworthy,” said Major Ellis Powell. “Not only is it a public health and safety concern, but the economic and ecological impacts are tremendous as well. Our mission is to assure compliance with regulations that will help sustain these resources for many years and generations to come.”

The operation resulted in more than 70 criminal cases and numerous warnings over the four days. In total, Texas Game Wardens were able to return 436 sacks of oysters, approximately 47,960 pounds, to the bay. Many of the violations were for possession of undersized oysters that the state’s reef ecosystems require for sustainability and future harvests.

Game wardens made 12 arrests for possession of undersized oysters, 3rd or more enhancement. They also issued 42 citations for possession of undersized oysters, totaling 34 percent of the cases. Other arrests included unlawfully selling molluscan shellfish (a Class A misdemeanor) and possession of marijuana (a Class B misdemeanor).

U.S. Coast Guard boarding officers also identified over 20 violations related to vessel crew and safety requirements.

New regulations that took effect in Nov. 2017 reduced the allowable number of undersized oysters taken from 15 percent to 5 percent and provided an enhancement penalty for the possession of undersized oysters to an arrestable Class B offense.