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Good Oysters and Bad Oysters


    The San Francisco Chronicle gave front-page play the other day to a story about an oyster farmer in Drakes Bay and efforts by the Park Service to end his operations there by 2012.
    The reason? When Point Reyes National Seashore was authorized, it was understood that Drakes Bay would be returned to wilderness, according to seashore Superintendent Don Neubacher, and oyster farming is not compatible with wilderness.
    This story caught me a bit by surprise, because in the wake of my visit last fall to Tomales Bay, which also falls under the seashore's purview, I became interested in oyster research in those waters. Why, I wondered, are oysters not good in Drakes Bay, but good in Tomales Bay?
    The answer actually is quite simple.
"In Tomales Bay we are referring to native oysters that create habitat for native species since they grow on the rocks in the intertidal zone of the bay," Dr. Ben Becker, a marine ecologist who oversees the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center at the seashore, told me. "These native oysters are the ones that many would like to see restored to both Tomales and San Francisco bays since they were over-harvested during the last century and suffered from sedimentation and coastal development.
    "In contrast, the oysters being cultured in Drakes Estero (and Tomales Bay) for commercial purposes are non-native Pacific oysters that are generally grown off the bottom on racks and do not provide the same ecosystem benefits of native oysters.
     "But the greatest concern (as stated in the article) with oyster farming in Drakes Estero is that the Congress designated Drakes Estero to become wilderness in 2012, and to comply with the wilderness act there cannot be a commercial operation on site that cultivates shellfish."


I know - a little bit old, but I found this in a search for something else.

Tomales Bay is only partially under the control of Point Reyes NS. The southern end along Point Reyes is private land around the towns of Inverness and Inverness Park. A good section of it is Tomales Bay State Park. The entire eastern end is not NPS save a couple of short stretches that are less than 1 mile and part of Golden Gate NRA. The shellfish farmed and harvested there are not the native Olympia oyster anyways. They're Pacifics, Atlantics, Kumamotos, and manila clams. In any case the State of California holds all fishing rights to Drakes Estero and Tomales Bay, and Drake's Bay Oyster Farm has a state shellfish permit to use the area that currently expires in 2029. They're also trying to reintroduce Olympias back into Drakes Estero.

The note that Congress designated Drakes Estero to be a wilderness area by 2012 is patently false. I've read the 1976 act (it's very short) that designated the current wilderness and potential wilderness areas, and it makes zero mention of any dates. It's only about 1 page long and the only years mentioned are 1976 and 1962 (for the act designating Point Reyes NS).

Here's an alternate take:

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