SAN LEON, Texas – After years of unwavering dedication, Lisa Halili’s dream has set sail. Through a robust and collaborative effort, Halili, co-owner of renowned Gulf Coast fishery Prestige Oysters and founder of San Leon Oyster Festival, has led the way in establishing Rett Reef, notably Texas’ first oyster restoration reef by a private oyster industry member. The experimental restoration of the reef, which was destroyed during Hurricane Ike, is being brought to life thanks to a collaboration between San Leon Oyster Fest, Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House, Prestige Oysters, The Nature Conservancy in Texas, and Texas Sea Grant. Previously known as San Leon Marina Reef, the reef will return to its roots as a marina for sport fishing.
In a poignant gesture, Halili has named the project Rett Reef to help raise awareness of Rett syndrome, a rare and severely disabling neurological disorder of which she first became aware after meeting local country music artist and photographer Kevin Black (brother of Clint Black), who lost his teenage daughter Cortney to this disorder. A ceremonial christening will take place Friday, Oct. 27, at the reef, just beyond Pier 6’s marina at 113 6th St, San Leon, Texas, 77539.
The historic sport fishing reef was purchased by San Leon Oyster Fest through the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and donated to restore it to a thriving, protected oyster reef to help grow Galveston Bay’s oyster population. The vital substrate required to create the oyster beds will come from tide-to-table restaurant Pier 6, owned by Raz Halili, Lisa’s son and Vice President of Prestige Oysters. The restaurant will donate 383 tons of spent oyster shells, which Prestige Oysters’ boats will unload at the site. Upon its completion, the non-harvestable reef will span 10 acres and be elemental in improving water quality, attracting fauna, protecting the area from storm surges, and educating the public about the many benefits of oyster reefs.
Oyster reefs are among the most threatened marine habitats on Earth, with an estimated 20 to 50 percent of the original reefs remaining in the Gulf of Mexico due to environmental disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, climate change impacts like ocean acidification and water pollution. “A part of what we do in the industry is help conserve and restore oyster beds,” said Raz Halili, “We’ll be able to do a lot of cool things at Rett Reef to educate anyone interested in oyster cultivation and restoration, as well as experiment with what works and doesn’t work on oyster reefs. It’ll be a unique component of what we can do at the restaurant beyond an excellent dining experience.”
The Nature Conservancy in Texas and Texas Sea Grant have played instrumental roles in acquiring the US Army Corps of Engineers permit for the reef restoration and will conduct ongoing research at the site to monitor progress and the potential to duplicate the approach elsewhere. Seeking to advance science and management, The Nature Conservancy in Texas believes that protecting marine habitats while supporting sustainable, productive fisheries is a win-win scenario. Rett Reef will be foundational for testing the effectiveness of restoration techniques like dredging oysters without a net (bagless dredging).
“We are excited to collaborate in the Rett Reef oyster reef restoration by supporting the permitting process and developing a monitoring plan to document the success of this effort,” said Lauren Williams, Resilient Coast Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “This is the first-ever industry-led, non-harvestable oyster reef restoration project in Texas, and we hope to support other commercial oyster industry members to engage in similar projects across the Gulf Coast.”
The Texas Sea Grant team first connected with the Halilis in 2018 when Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture Program Director Laura Picariello worked with Raz to complete the arduous three-year process for Prestige Oysters to receive a Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certification for all its private lease grounds in Texas and Louisiana. Prestige remains the only oyster fishery in North America with such a certification. To Picariello, collaborating with the Halilis on continued efforts to ensure oyster fisheries are healthy and sustainable made it a natural fit for Texas Sea Grant to join the Rett Reef project. She hopes the initiative will give oyster harvesters and the restoration community a path forward to work more collaboratively in restoring Texas’ historically expansive and valuable oyster reefs.
“Rett Reef is an important step in continuing to help restore Galveston Bay reefs,” said Picariello. “Historically, this non-harvestable reef was an important fishing ground for recreational fishermen, and its restoration will provide enhanced recreational fishing grounds, help to improve water quality, and provide shoreline protection to the San Leon area.”
The Christmas Bay Foundation, which plays a vital role in Galveston Bay’s ecology, including the Christmas Bay Estuarine System and its tributaries—the most pristine bay system of the upper Gulf Coast—has also provided its expertise in the restoration of Rett Reef.
Following a christening ceremony held Friday, Oct. 27, at 2:30 p.m. to officially launch the Rett Reef project, Pier 6 will host a charity concert by Kevin Black at 6 p.m. Tickets for the event are $35 and include priority seating for the concert, a featured cocktail and a signed copy of “Raising A Hand, Volume 2,” Black’s book project with photography of musicians by David Clements. All proceeds from tickets and book sales and 10 percent of Pier 6’s sales from the day will benefit Raising a Hand for Rett and the International Rett Syndrome Foundation.
“I am just a commercial fishery lady who wanted to take my years of experience and restore this non-harvestable sport fishing reef,” said Lisa Halili. “Not only will this provide so much to our ecosystem, but after learning the plight of families like Kevin’s whose lives have been turned upside-down by this disorder, my hope in naming this little 10-acre oyster reef Rett Reef is to create more awareness for Rett syndrome and build on the Blacks’ more than twenty-year journey to help find a cure.”
Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products, and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 34 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.
The Nature Conservancy in Texas
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters, and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable.
Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House
A 2022 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, Pier 6 opened in November 2020 at 113 6th Street in San Leon, Texas. Pier 6 is the premier restaurant by Raz Halili of globally renowned Prestige Oysters, a sustainably minded, second-generation oysterman. Halili built a gorgeous seaside dining destination, partnering with award-winning Executive Chef Joe Cervantez to create a tide-to-table menu of seafood hits to pair with vibrant craft cocktails and views of Galveston Bay. The result is a relaxed, inviting atmosphere to linger over the freshest Gulf Coast oysters and seafood available during lunch, dinner, social hour, and weekend brunch. In 2022, the restaurant constructed an expansive marina, making it a popular stop for area boaters. Known for hosting lavish holiday parties and community events, a secondary patio bar was added in Summer 2023 and additional amenities are underway to better accommodate large-scale events and offer more ways to enjoy the pier.
The American Dream come to life, Prestige Oysters is a fully integrated, family-owned and -operated oyster company specializing in fresh, frozen and post-harvest processed oysters. Founder Johnny Halili, an Albanian immigrant who came to the U.S. in the 1970s, made his way from Chicago to Louisiana to work. Even though he’d never been on a boat, he accepted a job as a deckhand, and after years working at sea, he bought his own boat, weathering many cold winters harvesting oysters and hot summers pulling in shrimp with his wife Lisa as deckhand before growing Prestige Oysters to the most prominent wholesale oyster operation on the Gulf Coast. Today, they run Prestige Oysters with their son Raz, overseeing three full-time oyster processing plants in Texas and Louisiana, Prestige providing a market for over 100 boats across the U.S. Gulf Coast. Prestige Oysters is the only wild oyster fishery in the Americas to be Marine Stewardship Council-certified, recognizing the company’s dedication to sustainable, environmentally conscious fishing practices. From the oyster resource in the water to harvesting vessels, landing docks, and processing facilities to restaurants and homes across the country, Prestige is a direct-to-market source for fresh, quality sustainable oysters. prestigeoysters.com
San Leon Oyster Festival
The San Leon Oyster Fest is a nonprofit 501c3 educational and environmental restoration organization whose mission is to protect, restore, and sustain oyster reefs in Galveston Bay, educate the general public on the importance of the ecosystem, protect the oyster industry and to collaborate with other agencies to achieve these goals. Proceeds from San Leon Oyster Fest events and fundraisers are dedicated to the continuing enhancement of the oyster reefs and health of Galveston Bay—the Pearl of the Gulf Coast! The annual Festival takes place in April and includes oyster cookoffs, oyster eating contests, kids zone activities and other family-friendly entertainment. Proceeds from admission tickets raise funds for oyster reef restoration initiatives.