Gulf Oystermen

Landon Nordeman

"I eat somewhere between a dozen and 60 oysters a day," says Misho Ivic, the owner of Misho's Oyster Company of San Leon, near Galveston. "I ride a speedboat around and check all my boats, like a shepherd watching his flock, and I take a few oysters from each boat to see how they are." Not a bad life, I'd say. Croatian-Americans like Ivic have long worked in the thriving Gulf Coast oyster industry, though Ivic himself wasn't born into the trade. He left Zagreb in 1972 and bought his first oyster-bed lease in Galveston Bay, where virginica oysters have long flourished in sheltered estuaries, in 1977. Today four of Ivic's six children are in the oyster business; a fifth married a Croatian-American oysterman. What is Ivic looking for when he tastes all those oysters? "I like to see a lot of purple on the inside of the shell; that means the oyster is absorbing minerals. The perfect oyster grows between freshwater and saltwater, and it gets fatter and sweeter as the water gets colder in winter." Ivic exports as many oysters as he sells in-state, but, if you ask me, a mess of those fat, sweet Gulf oysters—raw, fried, or broiled is as Texan as beefsteak.