To: California Democratic Party Environmental Caucus
From: Pete McCloskey
Date: October 20, 2013
Dear Environmental Caucus members,
The purpose of this letter is to strongly endorse the Resolution to support the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm (DBOF), submitted to the Executive Board of the California Democratic Party.
As a former Congressman, a founder of the original Earth Day, co-author of the Endangered Species Act and early supporter of the national Wilderness Act, I played a key role in securing federal funding needed to purchase the Point Reyes ranchlands for the formation of the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) in 1970. In August, 2011, I, along with John Burton, retired United States senator and lead author of the 1976 Point Reyes Wilderness Act (PRWA), and William Bagley, the former California state assemblyman who, in 1965, wrote the bill that transferred ownership of State waters surrounding Point Reyes to the National Park Service (NPS), submitted a letter to then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, urging the Secretary to renew Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s operating permit and declaring that the claim that Drakes Estero must be converted to wilderness in 2012 is based upon a misinterpretation of the Act, and of the history leading to it.
As the legislative history makes clear, and as emphasized in Judge Paul J. Watford’s September 3, 2013, Ninth Circuit Court dissent, continuation of the oyster farm in perpetuity was supported by promoters of the PRWA from the beginning. Explicit in the language of the 1965 Bagley bill, which transferred State waters to the US, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife retained its rights to its shellfish leases in the Estero.
These represent 55% of the State’s shellfish water bottom leases, and could not, and cannot, be given up except by an Act of the State legislature. The claim by oyster farm opponents that this issue is a struggle between the integrity of the national Wilderness Act and a profiteering commercial shellfish operation is erroneous. In fact, this matter is about the integrity of the State’s – and particularly the San Francisco Bay Area’s - sustainable shellfish production capacity. There is no impact on the national Wilderness Act, or the Point Reyes Wilderness Act, of respecting the retained rights of the State of California to its shellfish water bottom leases.
Additionally, while some have argued that retaining California’s 80-year shellfish leases in Drakes Estero will somehow open California’s coastline to fracking (already taking place off our coast), Drakes Estero is a designated State Marine Conservation Area, in which recreational clamming and commercial shellfish harvesting are explicitly allowed, while other types of use are explicitly forbidden.
The 2012 expiration date underlying the Department of the Interior (DOI) decision not to renew, pertains only to the one and one half acre on-shore oyster farm facility, which is located within the PRNS pastoral zone, not within the potential wilderness area. The conflation of the explicitly renewable DOI pastoral zone lease with California ‘s retained
I 000+ acre water bottom lease, has contributed to the widespread misunderstanding of this matter. Theft of California’s Drakes Estero water bottoms by DOI would undermine the sustainability of the entire State shellfish program at a time of unprecedented — and
growing — demand for shellfish in the face of exploding human population, a projected doubling of human need for high quality protein, and precipitously declining oceanic fish stocks.
Environmental benefits of shellfish farming
The pristine quality of Drakes Estero, after over 80 years of commercial oyster production under California Department of Fish and Wildlife oversight, confirms there is no environmental benefit to be gained by elimination of the oyster farm. Yet its loss would mean a significant reduction in the State’s — and thus the nation’s — capacity to meet the rapidly growing demand for sustainably produced, high quality seafood, in direct contradiction of the 2011 NOAA Fisheries and Department of Commerce Joint Seafood Initiative, which calls for rapid and significant expansion of the nation’s seafood production capacity, and to which the Department of the Interior is signatory.
Only limited areas of our nation’s coastline offer suitable conditions for shellfish aquaculture. Recent events in the Gulf of Mexico and ongoing oyster restoration efforts in estuaries round the country graphically underscore the need for farmed seafood production to be as widely distributed as possible to ensure the resilience and integrity of our nation’s farmed seafood supply. DBOF is the most productive shellfish aquaculture lease in California, yet involves less than 10% of the Estero’ s waters.
Globally, the United States is the leading importer of fish and fishery products, with 91% of our seafood originating abroad -half of which is from aquaculture. Driven by
imports, the U.S. seafood trade deficit has grown to over $11.2 billion annually. Meanwhile, non-US demand for marine protein is expected to double by mid-century. The United States consumes over 10% of the world’s seafood, half of which is farmed. Yet the US ranks 15th in total aquaculture production, producing less than 1% of the world’s farmed seafood. Globally, there is a compelling need, and a moral and ecological imperative, to produce more seafood in the United States to insure a safe, reliable and ecologically sustainable supply for US consumers without depleting international seafood stocks.
Shellfish aquaculture in the United States contributes to overall seafood supply, eases pressure on commercial fisheries, enhances habitat for at-risk species, and maintains economic activity in coastal communities and at working waterfronts in every coastal state. Aquaculture is a tool for habitat and species restoration, facilitating rebuilding of oyster reefs, enhancing habitat for wild fish populations and improving water quality. With ocean acidification, warming sea temperatures and rising sea levels, the need for improved production of managed fishery resources is increasingly apparent. If environmental protection is genuinely a motivating factor for those working to shutter the DBOF, they should stand for protection of California’s Drakes Estero shellfish
production capacity, not against it.
Harbor seals are thriving in Drakes Estero
In 2007, NPS began to claim that Drakes Estero Harbor seal pup survival was being negatively impacted by oyster farm operations. The “science” behind these claims was shown to be inadequate, at best, and 2013 NPS reports reveal that harbor seals counts at Drakes Estero are the highest since 2006, while pup counts are the highest since the NPS
monitoring program began. At the same time, oyster production in Drakes Estero is on track to be the highest it has been in the nine years of DBOF stewardship.
Similarly, claims of negative oyster farm impacts on eelgrass ignore the fact that eelgrass cover in Drakes Estero has doubled over the past decade, while accusations that oyster culture has caused the spread of the sea squirt, Didemnum fail to note that this sponge like creature is ubiquitous in estuarine systems world-wide.
Global importance of shellfish mariculture
The United States imports over 83% of the seafood it consumes, at an annual cost of over 14 billion dollars. Over half of that imported seafood is farmed. The FDA has recommended that Americans double our seafood consumption, and the FAO has estimated that an additional 40 million metric tons of seafood will be needed by 2030 to meet global demand. Increasing demand can only be met through increases in sustainably farmed seafood. The United States currently produces less than one percent of the 50 million metric tons of farmed seafood produced globally each year.
As global demand for seafood increases, the need to increase sustainable, local production is self-evident. The Drakes Bay Oyster Farm produces over thirty-percent of California’s farmed shellfish.
The oyster farm’s operator, a third generation local farming family that purchased the farm in 2005, has evidenced exemplary stewardship of the resource, partnering with the University of California Sea Grant program, NOAA fisheries, and the San Francisco Bay Native Oyster Restoration Project on a number of significant marine restoration and research efforts, as well as effecting dramatic improvements of the Drakes Bay farm itself. In addition, the oyster farm is of unique cultural and economic significance. It provides good jobs for men and women in equal numbers, most of whom are of Hispanic heritage, in an agricultural area where most available jobs are held by men. The importance of this fact for the well-being of the affected families, and the West Marin community as a whole, cannot be overemphasized. Many of these workers also live on the farm, and will be forced from their homes, and their children from their schools, if Mr. Salazar’s misguided decision is allowed to stand. Further, the farm serves a remarkably diverse clientele, with a predominance of Asian and Hispanic visitors. Many of these families have partaken of the products of the oyster farm for generations.
DBOF and the marine aquaculture resource it represents is an essential component of our nation’s sustainable seafood production infrastructure. As the FDA, FAO, NOAA Fisheries and Department of Commerce have made clear, we need this irreplaceable resource now, and will need it even more in the near future.
As a registered Democrat, I strongly urge the Democratic Party Environmental Caucus to endorse the Resolution to support the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.