Commentary

Why Oyster Farm Should Stay - Marin Independent-Journal

THE Drakes Bay Oyster Company is a small, family run oyster farm and cannery in Drakes Estero, where oysters have been farmed for more than 60 years. It provides 30 jobs and its subsurface oyster racks take up from one to 7 percent of the bay.

Kevin Lunny - who runs the oyster farm and whose family has farmed in this area for more than a century - has been treated unfairly by the National Park Service, which has manipulated science with the purpose of driving the oyster farm out of the area.

I have been, and will always be, a passionate advocate for protecting California's environment and its wilderness areas. But I also believe in standing up for small businesses that are woven into the rich heritage of our coast.

So, I asked independent scientists at the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the controversial park service report on the estero. They concluded that the park service science was shoddy, misleading, and in some cases, flat wrong.

Specifically, the academy study found that the Park Service "selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation."

The study also found that there was "a lack of strong scientific evidence that shellfish farming has major adverse ecological effects on Drakes Estero at the current levels of production and under current operational practices."

The National Academy of Sciences scientists concluded that "adaptive management could help address effects, if any, that emerge with additional scientific and research and monitoring." They also found that keeping oysters in Drakes Estero could help provide filtering capacity in the event of storm runoff or an algal bloom.

So, the oysters have no proven negative impact and could help keep the estero's ecology healthy.

Last year, the Interior Department's Inspector General conducted a similar review and also concluded that the Park Service scientific report contained several factual inaccuracies on sedimentation and that a leading park service scientist had "misrepresented" the research of other scientists.

The park service's flawed report has since been removed from the agency's Web site.

Last month, I introduced legislation to extend the lease for the oyster operation - which predates the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1960 - by another 10 years.

I am joined in this effort by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and members of the local community. Just this week, the measure was endorsed by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

During my 16 years in the Senate, I have done my best to protect the natural beauty and environment of our great state. I authored laws to protect 7 million acres of pristine California desert and help restore the famed clarity of Lake Tahoe. I helped negotiate the purchase of 16,500 acres of former salt ponds along San Francisco Bay for wetlands restoration. I negotiated the federal legislation that conserved 700,000 acres of old-growth trees in Headwaters Forest and authored the legislation enacting a settlement agreement to restore the San Joaquin River.

But Drakes Estero is not a remote wilderness area. In fact, it's important to note that the estero has been designated as "potential wilderness," which means that it could become federally protected wilderness in the future.

The Point Reyes National Seashore and the adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area are unlike other park lands - they are surrounded by 15 historic ranches and historic farms.

Today, there are at least two dozen families that have special use permits to cultivate their crops and raise dairy and beef cattle on the lands managed by the park service.

Some have raised the concern that this lease extension might set a precedent that would allow for farming in other "potential wilderness" areas.

But the language in the bill specifically states: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to have any application to any location other than Point Reyes National Seashore; nor shall anything in this section be cited as precedent for management of any potential wilderness outside the Seashore."

So, there is no new precedent established.

Given all of the circumstances, I see no reason why the Drakes Bay Oyster Company should be put out of business at this time. Extending the lease of this historic oyster farm for another 10 years is the right thing to do.