California Officials Challenge Federal Plans to Shut Down Oyster Farm

Published November 26, 2012

The California Department of Fish and Game is challenging National Park Service staff who are attempting to shut down a family-owned oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore. 

The California Department of Fish and Game, with the support of Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D), sent an Oct. 10 letter to the National Park Service pointing out the Lunny family has farmed the land for a century and has a state lease to continue oyster cultivation through 2029. 

Environmentally Friendly Farming

The Lunny Family’s Drakes Bay Oyster Co. is recognized by several environmental groups for its environmentally friendly stewardship. The company is Salmon Safe, Animal Welfare Approved, and Marin Organic Certified.

“We have 30 families that depend on this farm,” said Kevin Lunny, coowner of Drakes Bay Oyster Company. “And half of them, their homes depend on it, too, because they live on this farm.”

The Drakes Bay Oyster Co. provides 40 percent of the California oyster market.

Feds Moving the Goalposts

The Lunny family’s federal Reservation of Use and Occupancy permit in Drakes Estero expires Nov. 30. The Lunnys and California environmental officials note the family has a long history of environmentally friendly oyster cultivation.  

“It’s been a struggle,” said Lunny. “In a nutshell, we are cattle ranchers and oyster farmers in Pt. Reyes. It’s been traditionally agricultural land. In the 1960s or 1970s, the National Park Service purchased land and made it into a unit of the national parks. But we had an agreement. The ranchers agreed to sell and the parks service would make it a preservation area so long as they could still use it.”

The partnership progressed smoothly until 1976 and the passage of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act, Lunny said. At first, the federal government agreed the state held an “indefinite right” to issue shellfish leases, regardless of the proximity of the federally preserved wilderness property, he said. But over the years, some environmental groups—not all, Lunny stressed, noting many see oyster farming as a solid example of sustainable business—joined forces with the National Park Service to expand the wilderness protections to the Estero Bay area. 

Seeking Cooperation

California state officials, meanwhile, hope the parties can reach a cooperative agreement about the future of oyster farming in the Drakes Bay Estero. 

“Generally speaking, the Department of Fish and Game has had a long and collaborative relationship with the aquaculture industry in California,” Mike Taugher, communications director for the California Department of Fish and Game, told Environment & Climate News. Taugher said the Department of Fish and Game “has encouraged the parties to work cooperatively” to resolve the dispute.

Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) is a digital editor with Times247, the latest project of The Washington Times.