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Letter From the Editor: Oyster Farm Going Out With Class


Cartoonist George Russell calls California’s Kevin and Nancy Lunny “great fighters,” and there is no doubt about it. They’ve fought the warped bureaucracy of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service to the gates of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Their lease for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. at Point Reyes has now expired, and, along with it, any legal option for the oyster farm staying about the waters of Drakes Estero. The Lunnys and about 25 people who earn their living at the Oyster Shack and Cannery will give up their 1,100 acres of holdings at Point Reyes on July 31.

Do not look for the Lunnys to take the Clive Bundy route, although they probably could amass an army and seize Point Reyes from the green shirts of the NPS. About 85 percent of Marin County stands behind the Lunnys, but do not look for any resistance.

The Lunnys have too much class for that, and they want no part of it.

“Though we don’t think civil disobedience is a good idea here, those of you still looking for ways to help should speak your mind to Park officials and elected representatives,” the Lunnys wrote to local residents in a column published by The Point Reyes Light.

The Lunny family and their employees will be leaving peacefully, but they will not give up. They plan to pursue a new permit through either the courts or Congress, or both. They’ll remove their personal property, including equipment, from the shores and waters of Drakes Estero.

It will end, at least for the time being, the oyster production that has occurred on those waters since at least the 1930s. Oyster racks that are attached to the bottom of the estuary are structures that aren’t listed as the farm’s property and might remain. All is subject to negotiation.

Millions of oysters will likely be wasted in exiting the property.

Kevin and Nancy Lunny also disclosed in that column that they almost did not buy the lease from the Johnson Oyster Co., which held it for about the first 30 years, because the then-park superintendent said it was “falling apart.” But the local NPS boss encouraged them to acquire the lease, saying he would feel like he had “died and gone to heaven” if they did.

The Lunnys are a third-generation ranch family, which has long leased acres at Point Reyes. The park superintendent knew they’d meet their obligations, and, upon acquiring the oyster farm, they made $1 million in improvements. They were certain that would put them in good stead when the lease needed renewal in 2012.

Interior, especially the Park Service, has a history of taking land. Many Indian nations, small landowners surrounded by federal lands (often called inholders), and others who’ve lost property rights by various means have found out how hard it is to oppose the kind of federal actions the Lunnys have encountered.

Interior’s case against renewal of the oyster farm lease began under the Bush administration and continued without taking a breath through to Ken Salazar, the Obama administration’s first Secretary of the Interior. Salazar nixed the lease renewal, killing a business with $2 million in annual revenue and the jobs that go with it.

Most oyster production in the U.S. has already been wiped out. Most have been lost to industrial development at ports, but the U.S. government has killed its share through the Navy and shipbuilding. This might be the first oyster kill for the National Park Service, but you never know.

Like many of those who’ve gone before them, the Lunnys have been going through a Kafkaesque experience. When they are making up lies about your environmental impacts, you can file an “Information Quality” compliant, which was done fairly often in this case.

When you do that, you get back a letter that basically says you should rest assured that none of that erroneous information was used in the Secretary’s decision. Judges, for the most part, just rule that lease renewals are made under the Secretary’s authority; there is a record, and then it’s good regardless of what it was.

Drakes Estero is not a wilderness area. It’s part of the Point Reyes National Seashore and managed as a “potential” wilderness except for expressly allowed non-conforming uses such as the oyster farm and those ranches. Salazar could have inked another lease with the Lunnys, that’s for sure.

I submit that he didn’t because Interior’s real objective in such instances is to eliminate all the non-conforming uses. That means they are coming for those ranches next. Maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but Interior’s hunger for land will never be sustained.

“If the Park Service can rewrite history and make false accusations of environmental harm against our family and the oyster farm, it can do it to any of the ranching families,” the Lunnys explained. “So we sued.”

Ironically, while the federal government’s right hand looks over the destruction of the oyster farm, its jobs, and the $2-million business that once thrived at Point Reyes, its left hand is helping with money and scientific expertise in oyster restoration projects underway in Chesapeake, Mobile and San Francisco bays.

NOAA reports on the economic and environmental improvement aspects of those projects. Too bad for the Lunnys that the National Park Service did not get the memo. It’s also too bad that only one judge heard the actual claims in this case, as that judge found there’s been an abuse of discretion.

© Food Safety News
  • veloboldie

    For a monent I thought I got re-directed to Fox News website. What is this article to do with food safety?

  • Jules Michel

    Dan, “Bill Marler saw an opportunity to pull together a team of journalists and give them the resources to provide timely reporting on food safety issues like no other news outlet could.”
    As noted by others, what does this have to do with Food Safety’s mission as Marler defined it above? Wouldn’t it be a bit more timely to be reporting on minus tides, unseasonable warm weather and the elevated risk of vibriosis? Or virtually all of south Hood Canal being closed to commercial harvest because of vibrio blooms?
    Instead you glorify someone who knew full well an operation he was buying would not have its lease renewed. In fact, the land was not his for the government to “take” as you state. The Johnson Oyster Company sold it to the government for a fair price and a 40 year lease. With the wooden oyster racks, which Mr. Lunny purchased.

    Comparing restoration projects in Chesapeake Bay, Mobile and San Francisco Bay to this commercial aquaculture operation in Drakes Estero, where a shellfish population never existed historically, to somehow justify its existence in a wilderness area, puts you and the FSN’s credibility in question.

    The government and taxpayers should question – strongly – whether the lease terms for the land leased to ranchers on Point Reyes (and elsewhere) is fair, especially given the beef is sold at a price so high those outside of West Marin County are hard pressed to afford its “organic” price. But that hardly means they are “coming for those ranches next.” It means the government is supposed to be a caretaker of the public’s land and ensure a fair return is being received when leased or that it is put to the use Congress wrote into law, which in the case of Drakes Estero was for it to be a wilderness area.

    Stick to your mission and you will succeed. Chasing the shiny penny will only result in failure.

  • Anon

    “About 85 percent of Marin County stands behind the Lunnys”? Where did that number come from? I live in Marin County and that’s just not true. You pulled that number out of thin air. I agree, a very slow day for ‘food safety’ news indeed.

    • Save CA Oyster Farm

      From all of the community polls that have been conducted. One source is the Marin Independent Journal.

  • Harry Kays

    Oyster farms keep water clean and provide a healthy food source. It does not pollute the water or air like the Big Oil companies that have many Oil rigs off the CA Coast. Oyster growers in the San Fran bay are in bed with San Fran Politicians . Money and Monopoly is ALWAYS behind these stories.
    And all the jobs losses will only hurt the people that live and raise families in Marin county.
    The one employee interviewed had a 11 year old daughter and had worked there for 30 years.
    So the Lunnys were a good employer that kept their workers.
    But US Gov does not really care about people its all about consolidation , greed and money.

  • Harry Kays

    The US Government should not own or have the rights to lease ANY American land. The Lunnys did not in any way compromise the health of the environmental condition of Drakes Estero.
    They were responsible good employers . China and Vietnam are starting to crowd out the oyster farms here in the US with cheap oysters,clams and shellfish/shrimp.
    The US Government gives out BILLIONS to the Farm Aid bill each year benefiting Big Business
    like Tyson and Foster Farms and their caged chickens and turkey and the GIANT Cattle farmers that feed cows corn which cows never were meant to eat simply to please the McDonalds and many others outlets with fast meat. But the little guy the Lunnys and others get eaten up.
    I drive the Big Sur often a long stretch of beautiful scenery with NO DEVELOPMENT at all.
    How much of the coast does the US Gov want to take? Oysters and Clams grow on the coast
    and provide good nutrition but they can’t do that if they have no place to be harvested.