10-23-2012 Greenwire CA Dept of Fish & Game says Oyster Farm should stay.

The California Department of Fish and Game is pressuring the Interior Department to allow a California oyster farm to stay in a potential wilderness area, in the latest twist of a years-long controversy.

Until now, the state agency has stayed out of the debate over whether Interior should issue a new lease to Drakes Bay Oyster Co. when its current one expires Nov. 30. The farm has operated in Point Reyes National Seashore for decades; located in Drakes Estero, the farm straddles a “pastoral zone” set aside for ranchers and a “potential wilderness” area (Greenwire, Sept. 13).

But the state department has overseen the farm’s water bottom leases since California conveyed Drakes Estero to the federal government in 1965. That agreement underscores a long-held understanding, according to Fish and Game — namely, that California would be able to retain its fishing rights and allow the farm’s indefinite operation.

With less than six weeks until the farm’s lease expires, Interior has yet to release its final environmental impact statement. Salazar will consider the EIS in making his final decision.

But the draft EIS — which found that the farm would negatively affect the surrounding environment — has been controversial, with the oyster farm demanding that Interior redo it (Greenwire, Sept. 18). A report in August from the National Academy of Sciences found that a lack of evidence made the conclusions in the draft EIS significantly uncertain (Greenwire, Aug. 30).

Greenwire 

10. INTERIOR:

Calif. asks feds to allow oyster farm to remain in wilderness area

Emily Yehle, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The California Department of Fish and Game is pressuring the Interior Department to allow a California oyster farm to stay in a potential wilderness area, in the latest twist of a years-long controversy.

Until now, the state agency has stayed out of the debate over whether Interior should issue a new lease to Drakes Bay Oyster Co. when its current one expires Nov. 30. The farm has operated in Point Reyes National Seashore for decades; located in Drakes Estero, the farm straddles a “pastoral zone” set aside for ranchers and a “potential wilderness” area (Greenwire, Sept. 13).

But the state department has overseen the farm’s water bottom leases since California conveyed Drakes Estero to the federal government in 1965. That agreement underscores a long-held understanding, according to Fish and Game — namely, that California would be able to retain its fishing rights and allow the farm’s indefinite operation.

In a recent letter to the National Park Service, Fish and Game Director Charlton Bonham pointed out that Drakes Bay Oyster Co. represents 55 percent of the water bottoms leased and 40 percent of the oysters cultivated in the state.

“The continued cooperation between Drakes Bay Oyster Company, the National Park Service and the California Department of Fish and Game will benefit the environment, the community, and the local economy, consistent with our agencies’ unique history of managing this property,” he wrote.

It is unclear how much the letter will play into Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision on whether to allow the farm to remain.

Congress has specifically enabled him to give the farm a new 10-year lease thanks to a rider championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). A longtime advocate for the farm, Feinstein is also copied on Bonham’s letter.

National Park Service spokesman David Barna said the agency has received the letter. “We appreciate the State’s concerns and are reviewing the letter as we work to strengthen and complete our environmental review,” Barna said via email.

Time is running short. With less than six weeks until the farm’s lease expires, Interior has yet to release its final environmental impact statement. Salazar will consider the EIS in making his final decision.

But the draft EIS — which found that the farm would negatively affect the surrounding environment — has been controversial, with the oyster farm demanding that Interior redo it (Greenwire, Sept. 18). A report in August from the National Academy of Sciences found that a lack of evidence made the conclusions in the draft EIS significantly uncertain (Greenwire, Aug. 30).

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