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Pt. Reyes Oyster Farm Sues Government

| December 4, 2012
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by Laird Harrison and Jon Brooks

The owners of an oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore are suing to stop the federal government from putting them out of business.

Strings of mother shells that will contain baby oysters to be farmed are seen at the Drakes Bay Oysterf Co., 2007 in Point Reyes Station. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Last Thursday, Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar denied the Lunny family’s request for a 10-year extension of their lease to operate Drakes Bay Oyster Co. on the federal land.

In their lawsuit, the Lunny family doesn’t deny that their lease expired, but rather alleges that the government did not follow proper procedures in making its decision — such as giving notice of an environmental impact report.

To represent it in the case, the Lunny family has engaged Cause of Action, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as investigating and exposing “federal government corruption, waste, cronyism, and fraud.”

The effects of the oyster farm on the bay are in dispute. The Lunny family says the operation has had a “positive impact,” while the California Coastal Commission has complained that the farm littered the water with plastic and disturbed harbor seals with motorboats.

On Monday, Cause of Action sent out a press release with the following statement from Kevin Lunny:

We have been a dedicated small family farm for four generations in the West Marin community and when we purchased Drakes Bay Oyster Company seven years ago, we saw an opportunity to revive a part of our community that would provide local jobs, sustainable products for local businesses, and a positive long-term impact on the Bay itself.

The National Park Service has not just shut down our business, but has misrepresented the law, our contracts with the State of California, and the results of scientific studies.

Our family business is not going to sit back and let the government steam roll our community, which has been incredibly supportive of us. We are exploring possible responses to the National Park Service and will be taking legal action against them soon.  We are not walking away, instead we are fighting for our community, our employees, and our family against a federal government that seems to value lies over the truth and special interests over the welfare of a community.

And last Friday, KQED Science’s Lauren Sommer talked to Kevin Lunny, who said the following:

“We’re devastated, we’re horribly disappointed. I was at the farm when I received a call from the Secretary of the Interior. Secretary Salazar told me of his decision… We had to deliver that message to our 30+ workers… To think that this is the end of an 80+ year tradition of producing food for the Bay Area, hosting visitors as a destination, the history and the culture of a  coastal community coming to an end, losing these people in our schools and our churches…they’re losing they’re homes, too. …this is a devastating blow that will resound for a very long time in West Marin.”

When asked about the fact that he bought the operation knowing that renewal of the lease wasn’t guaranteed, he said:

“We did our due diligence, and we saw that authorities that we were working under expired in 2012, just like any lease or any agreement has a beginning and ending date; but it’s explicitly renewable… We had hoped that we could show this could be done right and they could exercise their right of renewal. We knew that it was possible they would do something like this, but we really didn’t think it could actually happen.”

You can listen to more from the edited interview here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Interior Department responded to the filing of the lawsuit today with this brief statement:

The Secretary made his decision after careful consideration of the applicable law and policy. The Department will carefully review the complaint and any related materials that may be filed. The Department does not comment on litigation.

In its original press release, the department said it was fulfilling the original intention of Congress in designating the seashore as wilderness:

Carrying out steps set in motion by the United States Congress over three decades ago, we are taking the final step to recognize this pristine area as wilderness,” said Salazar. “The Estero is one of our nation’s crown jewels, and today we are fulfilling the vision to protect this special place for generations to come.”

For more details on the department’s legal reasoning, you can read this memo.

Here’s a good background piece on the early years of the dispute from Marin Magazine in 2008.

And here’s the full text of the lawsuit filed today…

Drakes Bay Oyster Company Complaint

Update: The story on Ken Salazar’s decision to not renew the lease received a lot of comments. Just a few…

I was born and raised in San Francisco. As a child I went to Point Reyes long before it was “federalized”. The “National Seashore” designation made great sense when it included the existing agricultural uses. This notion that it must be returned to some imagined wilderness is so narrow minded as to turn me into a red-neck, right wing mindless Republican! First the PETA people take away our foie gras and now Salazar takes away our oysters. Can chocolate and wine be far behind?


Sad…I’ve been going up there from the Bay Area for over 50 years and always loved picking up some oysters. As has been noted, the oyster is the “canary in the coalmine” and one of the best indicators that something is out of whack environmentally. The entire hydroenvironment of Pt. Reyes is one of the healthiest on earth, and there is no impact on harbour, elephant or any other seals that can be pinned on the oyster farm. Furthermore, dozens of people have just lost their jobs, and we’ll be importing oysters from elsewhere on the west coast, and using valuable resources to do it. Greeeeat thinking there, Salazar.


I think some of you are missing the bigger issue. Lunny bought the “farm” five years ago knowing that the lease was going to expire at the end of the month. This has nothing to do with oysters as a food source, or how good they are for the economy, or the environment. Oysters as a food source is B.S. how many people rely on oysters to feed there families? The price he paid for the farm reflected the fact that the business was only viable for five years. He is the one that decided to fight to extended the permit, which forced the government to waist all the money on the EIS and related studies. If the oyster farm is so important why did they give it a 40 year lease? Why didn’t they write it into the law to allow it to exist forever? I’m surprised we have not heard from Lunny’s lawyers about the inevitable law suit…


Well, well, well, looks like Norcal “progressives” are reaping what they sow. Centralized power and control is great until they inevitably start taking decisions that you do not agree with. Hopefully the majority of commenters on this blog are realizing that it usually sucks when big government takes over local decisions. Oakland’s marijuana dispensaries will soon go the way of the Pt. Reyes oysters – who cares what the People of California want – after all, Big Brother Washington DC knows better than you.


[T]his is the right decision. This isnt the radical new environmental movement destroying tradition, it is simply a contract being fulfilled


The local environmental forces that have contributed to the destruction of this wonderful operation have completely lost my support. I have donated money in the past to some of them, but never again. There has to be a balanced voice in all these things, and clearly the people who pushed for this have no sense of balance, and no sense of shame. Well, shame on them, anyway.


Thank you Ken Salazar for making a difficult and honest decision. I enjoy oysters more, eat more oysters, and definitely cook better oysters than probably any of you other commenters. Frankly though, it was time for this business to shut itself down and allow the estuary to return to nature as had been intended by the original designers of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore – to whom we should all feel indebted.

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Category: Environment

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  • Cliff Schaeffer

    The earth is for the people not the other way around. Shutting the oyster farm down is a major sin. You are missing the mark. And no lire will enter the kingdom of heaven.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thevelvetvalentine Velvet Valentine

    God would want baby seals to rest & be born in peace. It is one company disrupting this area with speed boats & polluting the waters with an invasive species. This is not native & it doesn’t belong on our shores any longer I support Ken S. authoritative decision to return Drakes Estero to the people of the United States of America in God we Trust. The environment deserves a chance & this is a God send!