Don Bauder 4:30 p.m., April 25
Briny Brine Percent tell Oysterbamacare to shuck off
Photo: Guido, Creative Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
Prices may be on the rise for a popular briney bivalve following a controversial 90 day eviction notice issued to Marin County's Drakes Bay Oyster Co.
Last Thursday, the Point Reyes oyster farm responsible for about 40% of oysters produced in California was denied an extension on the 40-year federal permit that allows them to cultivate oysters in Drakes Estero.
The ruling cites a negative impact on eel grass and harbor seals, among other things, and comes after several years of deliberation between environmental activists, Senator Diane Feinstein, the Nation Park Service, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Salazar's refusal to renew the permit - originally issued when the National Park Service bought the land in 1972 - puts an end to a long tradition of shellfish farming in the 2,200-acre estuary.
As a result, Drakes Estero is set to become the only marine wilderness area on the west coast outside of Alaska as California's last oyster cannery is forced into closure.
"I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape," Salazar said in a November 29 press release.
While wilderness advocates celebrate the pending removal of operations from the bay, critics say Salazar is in bed with a bad oyster.
Sen. Diane Feinstein, who penned the 2009 legislation that gave Salazar exclusive control over the permit's renewal, said the Park Service's environmental review contained “false and misleading science” - science that cost taxpayers over $1 million in environmental assessment studies, according to records.
"The National Park Service has not just shut down our business, but has misrepresented the law, our contracts with the State of California, and the results of scientific studies," Drakes Bay Oyster Co.'s website states.
Bay Area oyster advocate Kyle Melton points a finger at the Obama Administration for what he calls "caving in to the rich conservationists of Marin County."
"I'm not going to preach about the great virtue of conservationism over capitalism or vice versa; my heart lies with the public interest," Melton tells The Reader.
"Drakes Bay Oyster Company has been, in one form or another, a boon to this community for almost 80 years, not just for the succulent jewel of the sea with which they grace our bar tops, but also for the sustainably-focused vision of haute cuisine so often perverted by the same limousine liberal community currently lobbying for the restoration of their McMansions' pristine ocean views. Repeal Oysterbamacare -- Save the Drakes Bay Oyster Company!"
He goes on to note that, while refusing to renew permits for the oyster farm (which improves water quality by filtering toxins, sediment, and excess nutrients from the bay), Salazar re-approved nearby cattle ranches, including one belonging to Drakes Bay Oyster Co. owner Kevin Lunny.
"Where would you rather live," Melton posits, "Normandy or Coalinga?"
The closure comes only months after Drakes Bay Oyster Co. recalled 58 lots of packaged oysters, which The California Department of Public Health said may be contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus - a bacteria that can cause vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache, fever and chills.
Yesterday, government accountability group Cause of Action along with Stoel Rives and SSL law firms filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of Drakes Bay Oyster Co. and Lunny.
The suit alleges that Salazar and the National Park Service "ignored the U.S. Constitution, violated the National Environmental Policy Act and countless other pieces of legislation."
"Our family business is not going to sit back and let the government steam roll our community, which has been incredibly supportive of us," Lunny said in a written statement issued by Cause of Action.
"We are not walking away, instead we are fighting for our community, our employees, and our family against a federal government that seems to value lies over the truth and special interests over the welfare of a community."
Drakes Bay oysters rarely end up on San Diego plates (Carlsbad Aquafarm, in part, takes care of that, in addition to suppliers from Baja California, Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and the East Coast), as the Bay Area alone consumes much of the half-a-million pounds of shucked oyster meat harvested by the farm each year.
Regardless, the high demand for quality seafood in the U.S. is liable to raise market prices, with consumers ultimately footing the bill.
An online petition to the Obama Administration seeks to reverse the Interior Department's decision by collecting 25,000 signatures by December 31, 2012.
The closure also inspired two independent short films and a petition that fell 184 signatures shy of its target 10,000 signatures for a new 10 year permit.