Food & The Law

Feds Shut Down Historic Northern California Oyster Farm

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Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 11:21 AM
click to enlarge A very fresh oyster - FELICIA FRIESEMA
  • Felicia Friesema
  • A very fresh oyster

If you, like some of us, were in the vicinity of Point Reyes in Northern California last week and did not enjoy some fresh oysters, you, like us, will be kicking yourself. And possibly U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, too. Salazar just announced that he is shutting down a historic oyster farm along Point Reyes National Seashore, designating the site as a wilderness area. As of tomorrow.

"After careful consideration of the applicable law and policy, I have directed the National Park Service to allow the permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. to expire ... and to return the Drakes Estero to the state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976," Salazar said in a statement. Salazar visited the oyster farm last week and said he did not make the decision lightly, according to the Associated Press. Point Reyes National Seashore was added to the national parks system by Congress in 1962, including protection for more than 80 miles of California coastline in the area.

Now the only creatures eating Drakes' Point Reyes oysters will be otters and seagulls.

Even staunch liberal Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) opposed Salazar's decision, saying the facility is a key part of the rural economy. She and the National Academy of Sciences also claimed that the National Park Service exaggerated the oyster farm's negative impact on the environment. More than $1 million in taxpayer money was spent on environmental assessment studies in the yearlong impasse over the issue.

The company was seeking a 10-year extension of its lease.

"It's part of the history, the community and the tradition of a coastal community," Drakes oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny told AP. "It's a national seashore where working landscapes, agriculture and farming were meant to co-exist."

But environmentalists and park officials said the farm's operations -- specifically, motor boat trips to collect the oysters -- threatened nearby harbor seals and other native species. Lord knows we wouldn't want to get a seal all upset.

Adieu, Drakes oysters. We hardly knew ye.

Happy note: There are several other oyster farms in the area that are not on federal land, such as Hog Island, which many aficionados claim are the very best.

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