To: California Democratic Party Resolution Committee
From: Pete McCloskey
Date: October 20, 2013
Dear Resolution Committee 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. Simply stated, 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 Game retained rights to its shellfish leases in the Estero, representing 55% of the State’s shellfish water bottom leases. These could not, and cannot, be given up absent an Act of the State legislature. There is no impact to 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. 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 and threatens the integrity of the State’s – and particularly the SF Bay Area’s — sustainable shellfish production capacity.
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 protected State Marine Conservation Area, in which recreational clamming and commercial shellfish harvesting are explicitly allowed, while other types of use are explicitly forbidden.
California shellfish aquaculture contributes to the overall seafood supply, eases pressure on commercial fisheries, enhances habitat for at-risk species, and maintains economic activity in coastal communities and working waterfronts. Shellfish 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. DBOF is the most productive shellfish aquaculture lease in California, yet
CDP Resolution Committee October 20, 2013
involves less than 10% of the Estero’s waters. Those for whom environmental protection is genuinely a motivating factor stand for protection of California’s Drakes Estero shellfish production capacity, not against it. Abandonment of California’s Drakes Estero water bottoms to 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.
The Drakes Bay Oyster Farm has unique cultural and economic significance. It provides good jobs for men and women in equal numbers, many 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 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 DBOF is forced to close. Further, the oyster farm serves a remarkably diverse clientele, with a predominance of Asian and Hispanic visitors from throughout the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Many of these families have partaken of the products of the oyster farm for generations, returning year after year to enjoy the healthful, delicious bounty of the Estero, fresh from the source, and rendering the oyster farm the single most popular visitor destination in the Seashore.
The oyster farm’s operator, a fourth 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 offers educational opportunities to local and regional schools, from the elementary to graduate level.
DBOF and the marine aquaculture resource it represents is an essential component of our State’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 Resolution Committee to endorse the Resolution to support the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.