Ken Salazar, our Secretary of the Interior with an anger management problem, is nearing the Obama Administration’s exit doors. He will likely be replaced by any one of a half dozen former senators and governors from the West.
Salazar, a former Colorado attorney general and U.S. Senator, went and got himself recorded threatening a local reporter with bodily harm just before last November’s election. His anger came out when he was questioned about botched handling of wild horses under Interior’s care.
For threatening to beat up a reporter, Secretary Salazar apologized and is now leaving the wild horse problem for his successor to deal with. For another species under his control, Salazar was “the decider.”
He is the latest to take a big whack at the little oyster. Oysters, once so plentiful on the northeast Atlantic Coast until disseminated in the last century, were a staple of the Gulf Coast until the 2010 BP oil spill. And they’ve barely been holding on to the West Coast. America’s supply of safe oysters is at risk.
But to the dismay of many a raw oyster bar, Salazar last last year opted to impose the death penalty on the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. at California ‘s Point Reyes by refusing to renew its lease.
It means the California’s largest oyster farm is facing imminent closure, bringing the loss of 40 percent of state’s safe supply of oysters. Demand for oysters almost always outstrips supply on the West coast. With other domestic sources like the Gulf Coast struggling to come back from the 2010 BP oil spill, Salazar’s decision is certain to be good for importers of foreign product.
With only two other bays in California where oysters are produced, Salazar may well be remembered as the man who made it impossible to get oysters on the half shell even at San Francisco Bay’s best restaurants.
The drama leading up to Salazar’s decision could end up in a movie script at some point because there was lots of skullduggery on the government leading up to the decision. Salazar revoked Drakes Bay Oyster ‘s permit to operate and gave it 90 days to shutdown. In taking the action, Salazar was reneging on a deal made with Congress 40 years ago.
Drakes Estero was specifically recognized as “potential wilderness” in the Point Reyes Wilderness Act to specifically allow the presence of the oyster farm. Usually when it is reneging on its obligations – like Indian treaties — past Interior secretaries have waited until everyone involved in the original deal was dead. But in this case, those who made that 40-year-old deal to keep the oyster farm are very much alive and kicking and they do not agree with Salazar.
The sponsors broke from retirement last year to write Salazar saying: “The seashore is somewhat unique in the National Park System in that from the beginning, it was intended to have a considerable part of its area, consisting of the historic scenic ranches being leased back to their owners, and to retain an oyster farm and California’s only oyster cannery in the Drakes Estero. The estero sits in the middle of those 20,000 acres of ranches designated as a pastoral zone; the oyster plant and cannery on the shores of Drakes Estero are in that pastoral zone.”
Usually the “original intent” of Congress must be taken from records of what was said at the time. This time the fathers of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act are to enlighten any judge that gets involved.
That might happen as Kevin Lunny, president of Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has filed an appeal in federal court, seeking review and a temporary injunction staying Salazar’s order.
Last minute appeals do, sometimes, work. But if they don’t, an area that has been in oyster production for 100 years will be no more. It will waste 8 to 10 million oysters already in the water that would be ready to harvest over the next two years.
While some of the environmental organizations that are mostly big mailing national lists heavily lobbied Washington D.C. to kill the California oyster farm, the green and liberal Marin County and most of its grassroots organizations support Drakes Bay.
So too does Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior U.S. senator, who expressed her dismay to Salazar.
His decision to kill off a company with annual sales in the $1.5 million range with many long time employees comes at a time when the federal government is in the business of handling out money for oyster reclamation. If you want to get into the oyster business, you apparently can apply for some of that money by contacting — you guessed it — the Secretary of the Interior.
A post-publication footnote: Like all oyster production areas, Drakes Bay has had periods when the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacterium temporarily prevents consumption of its shucked and in-shell raw oysters. It last experienced the problem last August.
© Food Safety News