Drakes Bay Oyster Company is fighting back after the federal government refused to renew its lease in Point Reyes National Seashore last week. The National Park Service and its environmentalist allies want to return the area to marine wilderness. But the company is suing to overturn the decision, and many oyster lovers are rallying to its defense.

Kevin Lunny, farmer and owner of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company
Neal Desai, associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association, which actively supported the agreement to let the oyster farm lease expire and wants the estuary returned to natural wilderness

  • I am a localvore, an environmentalist, and I support the Department’s decision not to renew the lease. The decision creates the right precedent to protect wilderness. Even if the impacts of the farm are minimal, it’s still an industrial activity in an area that needs to be protected.

    • Velvet Valentine

      I am another localvore & I am with you and many many others here in SF!

  • John

    The basis for the formation of Point Reyes was a Grand Bargain between local and federal government to continue the agricultural traditions of the area. Salazar said that the clean, sustainable oyster farm is a completely different issue from the land leases. How is this a different issue? We have a area completely surrounded by and in sight agriculture that some want to call wilderness. The historic ranches are an essential part of what Point Reyes is. Why not raise rents, support the seashore, improve production methods, and educate visitors able a great, clean and sustainable source of protein?

    • gbatmuirb

      The establishing law for PRNS contains explicit authority to renew leases for ranching and dairying…in contrast, there is no reference to renewals for commercial shellfishing.

      That explicit legislative authority reflects the fact that the ranches were private property whose sale to NPS was intended to incentivized by that authorized renewal…in contrast, the Estero was public property (the state’s) that was transferred to NPS and remains public property.

      Both Drakes Estero and Home Ranch were initially proposed to be within the PRNS wilderness area, but the grand bargain was to exclude from wilderness all ranching and dairying operations (whose lease renewals the Wilderness Act would have prohibited)…in contrast, Drakes Estero was included in wilderness and remained “potential wilderness” until the expiration of pre-existing shellfish lease (whose renewal the Wilderness Act prohibited).

      This is all spelled out in Secretary Salazar’s 11/29/12
      Letter posted on the PRNS website.

  • Mark Murray

    Count me as another environmentalist that supports the continuation of this sustainable agricultural enterprise in Pt Reyes. As a frequent visitor to Pt Reyes, I have seen first hand how this modest shellfish harvesting operation enhances the experience of visiting Pt Reyes. If this were the only agricultural enterprise in Pt Reyes, then the notion of returning the area to ‘pristine wilderness’ might be more compelling. but in fact the Pt Reyes has more than a dozen working dairy farms that have substantially greater impacts than the oyster company. Even the Park Service operates what could be described as commercial enterprises with larger paved parking areas at Drakes beach and elsewhere that have a substantially greater impact on the ‘wilderness experience’. Responsible California environmentalists need to stand up and show the nation that we are not all out of touch when it comes to sustainable agriculture.

  • Tristan

    I come from France where oysters are everywhere on the west coast, and considered as part of the environment, now. I am disappointed to see that oyster farms could be considered as armful on the basis of biased scientific data. Those people not only create amazing healthy food, but try to use the environment with respect, as opposed to many other big industrial farms in the USA.

  • Jeff Miller

    The decision by the Department of Interior to protect this important estuary as wilderness was welcome news to many of us Wset Marin locals. We are tired of the oyster company’s lies, sense of entitlement, attacks on the Park Service and attempts to bully the public to get your way. Lunny is getting exactly what he signed up for: the last 7 years of a 40 year non-renewable lease on public land. Be grateful for what you got and stop trying to secure special treatment. The public gets what we were promised 40 years ago: the first marine wilderness area in the lower 48.

    • Velvet Valentine

      !:)) I agree!

  • Mike Smith

    Dairy operations use none native animals in their operations yet continue to pollute the Pt. Reyes area w/o objection. Possibly the oyster co. should affiliate w/ the Dairy lobby. Close down these major polluters as well or allow the oyster operation to continue.

    • gbatmuirb

      As Secretary Salazar’s letter makes clear, ranching in PRNS is completely different issue from shellfishing. Further, none of the ranches in PRNS are “major polluters.” If you look on the PRNS website, you will see that PRNS has been working with its ranchers to enhance sustainability. There is more to do, but the list shows that PRNS does:

      Provide funding and oversight for the construction of water quality BMP’s (Best Management Practices)

      Assist with water development projects to protect park resources and provide water for cattle.

      Assist with the design of NRCS EQIP projects for range improvements, conduct NEPA review and assist with implementation.

      Control invasive weeds in pasture

      Collaborate with ranchers to develop new approaches to ranch management and to determine future needs, then pursue outside funding to implement improvements

      Coordinate range improvement projects with ranchers, NRCS, Marin RCD and State funding

      For the period between 2006 and 2008, we have been implementing BMP’s and monitoring pre- and post-water quality monitoring on ranches that drain to Tomales Bay Watershed with $350,000 from RWQCB and $200,000 match from PRNS

      Coordinating with Bill Niman to make range improvements to significantly reduce pollutants being delivered to Duxbury Reef

      Coordinate with Coastal Conservancy and Ranchers in the Tomales Bay Watershed to implement BMP’s to reduce
      non-point source runoff: $85,000 for 2008 and are currently developing the 2009 projects (major improvements on Giacomini and Lupton Ranches).

      source: http://www.nps.gov/pore/parkmgmt/upload/planning_ag_report_response_090724.pdf

  • gbatmuirb

    A deal is a deal…The termination of the shellfish lease required by the Wilderness Act has been explicit for almost 10 years now. Mr. Lunny knew that there were only 7 years left on both the NPS lease and on the Fish and Game mariculture lease when he bought out the Johnson Oyster Company (who also knew they had only seven years left). Mr. Lunny’s attempt to overturn the Wilderness Act to extend that lease does not create an entitlement.

    Mr. Lunny is also part of a family paving business that has government contracts, a government-subsidized compost business, a ranch rented from the government at below-market fees, and has used his political connections to get a rock quarry permitted in the middle of Marin County. He should move on to these other businesses and leave the Estero and the local West Marin community in peace.

  • Velvet Valentine

    I am extremely disappointed in Kevin Lunny! Please, do the right thing & move on! The community should support the decision to preserve this national treasure DRAKES BAY ESTERO! I can not believe the callers that called in in support of him & his selfishness. This is on PUBLIC land take your Millions of $ & move operations to Humbolt county. You have only been paying 4$ an acre on your lease & that is less than I pay for my own housing. I work as a local chef in the Bay Area I ONLY support Local, Organic, & SUSTAINABLE farmers. I support various farms in the region & use their products. Your business practice & your ethics are not sustainable. This was the deal on the property when you sign up please HONOR YOUR WORD! This is wasting everyone’s time over your 3.5% of the Bay Areas oyster supply. All of your FACTS are contaminated like your shell fish. You will never have my support or from my friends. I noticed today as I tried to call in to the station that you had a number of people all set up to call in on your behalf. It’s very corrupt of you the skew the facts, the findings, & what is BEST FOR THE ENVIRONMENT! Also your claim that the Miwok grew Oysters is also false. Oysters are an invasive species! PLEASE STOP & take your money & your 20 year lease on your farm & be happy. You are wasting tax payer $ & I don’t want to support your private interests any longer.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    When I heard Neal Desai say that the oysters were not native to the area I literally laughed aloud.

    Horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens, dog, cats, honeybees, lady bugs more fruits and vegetables are not native to California or even the entire country for that matter. Will Mr. Desai and his supporters now promise to stop eating anything unless its native to the area?

    Now do know the 1860’s that family members gathered some type of oyster as well as clams, crabs over on the coastal areas. So am curious where those oysters came from/

    • VHanson

      Beth, if you truly are curious, one standard source is [Bonnot P. 1935. The California oyster industry. Calif. FishGame. 21(1):65-80] There are several recent, authoritative studies on the archaeology and history of Drakes Estero shellfish. Depending on your particular standards and priorities, the ‘best available science’ on the matter is referenced in the EIS. If you are more persuaded by industry sources, consult with PCSGA (Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association). Local archives have some surprising insights, like testimony that the 1st test planters of oysters in Drakes Estero were fired upon, presumably by a local rancher. You may contact me for more citations at info.flipside2012@gmail.com

      Certainly, we have all learned much about sustainable food production, since gazillion tons of fine topsoil washed off our hillsides to choke every stream. Your point about introduced domestic animals bears more sarcasm than probative value. Have you not grasped that Mr. Desai may represent a sizable constituency which recognizes the value of sequestering one, isolated area? Even if a deficit of sympathetic insight denies you the ability or inclination to recognize the intrinsic value apparent to many, perhaps digging deeper into the nature of scientific inquiry may help illuminate for you how such a controlled estuarine system adjacent to 2 magnificent marine sanctuaries, which lies along the Pacific flyway and marine mammal migration routes, yet is readily accessible by world-class scientists visiting the SFBay area, as well as innumerable visitors from around the world, meets a far higher and rarer standard of utility, knowledge and inspiration, than 1/2 a million oysters, which are readily available in Tomales Bay, a stone’s throw away.

      • thucy

        That reply to Beth by “Ivy Lambsand” was so comically pretentious and mind-numbingly prolix that I suspect it’s intended as satire.

        Beth’s original point, however obvious, was irrefutable. I thank her for making it.

      • Beth Grant DeRoos

        My point about introduced domestic animals bears more sarcasm than any value?

        Fact is MOST food we consume in the states is NOT native to the country. And as far as non polluting food, oysters are one of the best, since all they need is the ocean.

        By the way how much damage from pollution do all those crab and fish boats create? Boats that run on fuel pollute yet I don’t see (thank god) anyone out to ban those fishermen.

        Bet those McMansions and SUV’s in Marin County have done more ecological damage to the surrounding water ways than the oyster farm.

  • ottersoftheuniverse

    I live in Point Reyes, a stone’s throw from Tomales Bay. As much as some commentators would like Mr. Lunny to “leave the community in peace” I know for a fact that there are many people in the area who do not feel the way that these commentators feel. I am one of them. I am an environmentalist. But I am also a humanist. And I think that Mr. Lunny’s enterprise actually supports the community, as a source of economic activity, producing jobs in an area that badly needs them; and as a source of aquacultural food production that others also value outside the community. Oysters help filter the Estero. Is it completely harmless? No, but at no point has anyone actually proved that the harm that the Company has done outweighs the good that the Company is doing, by raising oysters (As to the commentator who claims that oysters are “invasive”, perhaps the word you are after is “non-native”) Commentators discount the good that the farm does, in the name of a theoretical construct they choose to call “wilderness.” The PRNS is not a wilderness.

    And I think that is a problem. This area has been inhabited for centuries, and under cultivation, in one form or another, for 150 years. It has not been a “wilderness” for a long, long time.What would this new “wilderness” that some commentators are cheering look like, with run-off from cows continuing to go into the Estero without filtering from the oysters? Commentators who “tsk tsk” the pollution caused by Lunny (actually, much of it is from the previous owners), would, if they were consistent, actually also argue for the closing down of the dairy farms. The fact that they do not do so, falling back on the legal distinction they wish to hold to in order to eject Mr. Lunny is a source of great puzzlement to me. The silence is deafening on this…

    But then again, this wholesale absorption of the dairy farms is likely, in my opinion, to be the long term aim of the NPS. It is not a secret (in the West Marin community) that the NPS is squeezing the ranchers, with many thinking the NPS is waiting for them to leave their ranches. Once the ranchers go, the NPS can claim that the ranchers left of their own accord (even as the NPS makes it ever harder for these folks to make a decent living), and absorb the ranches into the “wilderness” that the NPS hopes to create in the long run. If that is so, that would be a pity. The PRNS is what it is today because of the special melding of “wilderness” and agriculture. And I include aquaculture as well, in that claim.

    • VHanson

      Such factual failures epitomize how those swayed by sentimental attachment to this oyster enterprise entirely block the clear record of evidence contrary to their fantasy of benign ‘sustainability’. This aquaculture industry ‘Manufactroversy’ is a classic example of using a charismatic Mom&Pop as a political wedge issue; funded by agents of the Koch Brothers.
      The Pacific oysters cultivated in Drakes Estero (c.gigas) is classed as one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world! Like climate change deniers, those who echo fact-free PR can’t alter reality.

      See, for example, this expert report from NOBANIS – European network studying destructive invasions:
      “[T]he invasiveness pattern of C. gigas has been demonstrated in several countries and it is therefore considered as an invasive alien species in such areas (CABI 2010). The potential environmental impacts related to C. gigas introduction are:
      – Displacement of native species by competing for food and space
      – Benthic-pelagic interactions and likely food web modifications
      – Habitat change
      – Hybridization with local oyster species
      – Transfer of parasites, diseases and pest species
      … Its present distribution in areas where no aquaculture activities with Pacific oysters have taken place suggests that uncontrolled natural invasion and expansion has occurred.

      … This brief review demonstrates that in many situations where C. gigas was introduced to revive existing aquaculture, the species naturalized and expanded its range along the coastlines slowly at first but since the late 1990s the invasion progressed rapidly throughout European waters. It takes only four decades after first importation that European and adjacent coastal waters are more or less continuously colonized by this alien species.

  • Teri Shore

    Lunny loves being in the news. Maybe an oyster reality show next? A book and speaking tour? Sponsorship for official oystering attire? Lobbying in D.C. for the aquaculture industry? No doubt he’ll rake in more than he ever did on the ol’ oyster farm.

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