Marin Voice: Point Reyes oyster farm decision hits home
By Jorge Mata
Guest op-ed column
I AM a 30-year employee at Drakes Bay Oyster Co. in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Though there has been a lot in the news lately about the oyster farm, I don’t think that much has been said about the importance of the farm to its employees and what Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar’s wrong decision to close the farm would do to them.
Small businesses and jobs are an important part of the recovery of the economy in this country.
Thirty jobs will be lost if Secretary Salazar’s incorrect decision stands. We are also a community.
My wife Veronica and I are very grateful to have spent three decades living and working at the oyster farm. All of us at the oyster farm appreciate the improvements at the farm since the neighboring Lunny family took over responsibility from the former Johnson Oyster Farm in 2005.
Those of us living at the farm have also valued being able to raise our children in a safe place and to send them to good public schools in Marin County.
Our older children, Jorge and Ruby, grew up on the farm sharing friendships with the Lunny family triplets, Brigid, Patrick and Sean.
Our youngest daughter, Alexandra, is 9 years old and currently attends West Marin School.
Jorge, Ruby and 25 other hard working people are also employees of the oyster farm.
Over these 30 years, I have worked very hard to earn promotions from a farm laborer to a farm manager. I have developed leadership abilities and other specialized skills including growing oysters, managing oyster larvae, operating boats and enforcing seafood safety rules.
Veronica has also succeeded in her job and is now a supervisor in charge of shellfish shucking and packing at the oyster farm. She is highly trained and skilled in seafood processing and is knowledgeable about the Food and Drug Administration rules for safe handling of seafood.
My co-workers at Drakes Bay share similar stories about their lives, families and work.
All of the families living at the oyster farm value living there, where it is a safe and quiet community in which we raise our families.
We all treasure the personal relationships we have developed over the years among ourselves, our church members, our employers and the greater West Marin community.
If Secretary Salazar’s wrong decision is allowed to stand, we will all lose our jobs at the last oyster shucking cannery in California.
It is highly unlikely that we will be able to find similar work anywhere in California. We fear that we will be torn from our families, from our work and our children will be torn from their schools.
We worry that our families will be separated and we will be forced to live in unfamiliar and unsafe areas.
I speak for all the employees at the oyster farm when I say that Drakes Estero is our home.
Please help us stay home.
If Secretary Salazar’s mistake is reversed, it will allow a successful, local small business to continue and for all our families to have some security.
Right now, we are waiting to see if we will continue with our work, or homes, our children’s schools, our church and our community or be scattered to the winds.
Jorge Mata is a longtime employee and manager at Drakes Bay Oyster Co. in Point Reyes. The Interior Department has decided to allow the oyster farm’s company’s longstanding lease to operate on national seashore land to expire and to convert the land to wilderness.