Drakes Bay Plight

My apologies for not having posted lately. Between family in town, baptisms, 65 hours a week working, the Oyster wine event, friends in town, and an exhaustingly fun Memorial Day weekend, I haven't had much time. The Oyster and wine event went, shall we say, swimmingly (all pun intended). Around 45 people were there, everyone seemed to like it, I got to be all nerdy about Oysters, can't ask for much more. Made a decent coin off of it too, although my brother's car had been towed earlier that day when we were picking up the Oysters, so I didn't even come close to breaking even. The experience was priceless though, right? Thanks again to everyone for coming and I hope you enjoyed, learned, and got a little tipsy.

Now, the second reason for not having posted more recently is the topic of this post. A brief and unbiased background before we begin.

The Drakes Bay Oyster Situation:

Drakes Bay Family Farms, a local Californian company, is run by a century old farming family named the Lunnys. They've farmed grass fed beef for over a four generations in the heart of the Point Reyes National Seashore, and in 2005, took over the Johnson Oyster Company. They currently hold a Special Users Permit in agreement with the National Park Service to grow Oysters in Drakes Estero (using the surrounding land that is part of the national park) that runs out in 2012. The issue: should their SUP be renewed in 2012? Some strongly say yes and others vehemently say no.

Now, I'm guessing if you're reading, you immediately chose the former; no questions asked. I did the same. Can't grow Oysters in a national park? Shuck off, NPS! So I had been contemplating writing about this for a while. Really, how appropriate for SF? Informing the people on how a family owned, local, artisan Oyster farm is going to be shut down by a bunch of big brother squares.

However, I figured if I'm going to write about it, I had better know all the facts. So, I started reading...and reading...and reading. The more I read, the more I realized how little I truly knew (that’s supposed to be that way though, no?). I couldn't have imagined how much was behind this issue. There were even some NPS scientists who, in a corrupt Baltimore policing manner, allegedly juked studies and statistics to say Drakes Bay was harming the ecosystem. Seriously...see below

Shady NPS Scientists

If minds that are supposed to be in pursuit of truth, and truth alone, are willing to risk their careers for this issue, there's got to be a lot more to it. From the inception of this blog, and even some time before, I'd been reading about this. I finally realized that if I continue reading, it would never end. Might as well become a full time researcher. What I thought I could have succinctly summarized in a post that one could read on the BART to work or, more crudely, an average adult's trip to the lavatory, ended up being everything but. By the way, if you find your self still in said location at the end of this, I suggest considering some Raisin Bran Extra on the next trip to the store.

I realized it was getting a bit out of hand for a blog of 12 followers when I found myself reading and comparing different opinions on eelgrass density and reproduction in areas of aquaculture and the countless different comments on the NPS's Public Scope held in last Fall. I didn't want this to be a Ben Stein "Bueller...Bueller" type read. I even found myself at that "Hawley-Smoot Tariff" boredom point while reading.

So, with more than enough said already, the following is mostly my opinion on the issue with a few facts peppered in...hopefully not as bad Fox News though. My apologies in advance for any mistakes I may have made.

Sustainability and Locavorism:

As I've said in previous posts, aquacultured Oysters are on the "Best Choices" list of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List. People love seafood, and nothing is going to stop that. Its popularity is even growing. There’s a sort of Oyster renaissance happening, if you will. So, with that in mind, we have to choose responsibly. Closing down DBOC would only force people to find other, less sustainable and less local options for their seafood fix. DBOC currently produces close to 40% of California's Oysters. Additionally, DBOC is California's only Oyster cannery, selling pinted Oysters for cooking. If they were to close, all those delicious fried Oysters or Oyster stews that we enjoy so much would be made of Oysters coming from Washington, the Chesapeake, or, oh dear, Asia (I can feel all of you cringing). Plus, the Carbon Footprint that many claim DBOC is making locally would be globally increased by now importing Oysters for SFers' mollusk mania.

The Local Economy:

DBOC provides employment to around 40 individuals in the area, with fair wages and often provides housing. In a state of economic turmoil, closing a successful operation and adding 40 more to the unemployment rate would be a shame, especially considering these employees support families, pay taxes, have children attending local schools, etc.

DBOC is also a destination for many local tourists. I visited in October and was astounded by the tranquility, the quaintness, and the beauty of the whole area. Well, beauty of the establishment is a stretch considering they haven't been able to renew any of the equipment. It literally looks like an Oyster farm from the 1970's (and in many ways, it still is). The NPS agreement has prevented them from purchasing new equipment. However, the DBOC attracts many people for this very reason (like I said, quaint). I know I wouldn't have gone to Point Reyes if weren't for the Oyster farm. All the individuals passing through that region provide income for the locals. I'm sure the kayakers and hikers do, as well. But, another tourist attraction can only help.


The DBOC is a popular destination for many school field trips. It provides an educational experience for many children in demonstrating the symbiotic existence that man and mollusk can have. Admittedly, these students could just as easily go to Tomales Bay and see the same operation. But really? If that's you're argument, you clearly don't understand. The more sources of education there are, the more likely it is people will utilize them. No more or less important, DBOC cooperates with local institutions in allowing and assisting in the study of aquaculture and how it can be responsibly and sustainably approached. They’re part of the solution, folks, not the problem.

Environmental Impact:

Okay, here's where I happily plead ignorance. I touched the tip of this iceberg, and can say that decades can be dedicated to this discussion. Are the harbor seals disturbed or not? Does eelgrass thrive or dwindle with aquacultured Oysters? Are nesting sea birds adversely affected? Nobody is 100% sure of any impact aquaculture has. It is, as all science, a constantly changing field with different, clashing opinions. All I can say, having spoken with one of the Lunnys, is that they are wholeheartedly committed to producing their Oysters (and cattle) in the most responsible, environmentally sound way possible. They've been doing it with cows for 4 generations, and are doing the same with Oysters. They've even switched their boats from two-strokes to more expensive, but cleaner burning four-strokes. And to the person who says "Oh, well it's an eyesore when I'm hiking." Hike your hippie ass another mile and trip there.

Deliciousness & Pride:

DBOC Oysters are delicious. Enough said. Not down-playing any other Oyster in California, but in my opinion, they’re the best Californian Oyster I’ve had. It’s a point of pride for San Franciscans, as well. It’s literally the closest grown Oyster to SF. Beautiful jade colored shell, moderately deep cupped, astoundingly briny up front because of the lack of rain, with an amazing herb flavored finish. The restaurant I work at pays extra for its canned oysters because they are that just that much better when baking or frying. The Lunny’s also embody the Locavore movement. Small family, a few workers, treating the land the way it’s meant to be treated. As Rowan Jacobsen says, “Oysters don’t taste like bacon double cheeseburgers or Chinese BBQ.” They’re like wines. You need to taste them side by side to appreciate the full validity of flavor that they deliver. And Drakes Bay brings an amazing contribution to this wide range. So, please San Francisco, I beg of you…stand up for the DBOC.

Public Scope #2 is coming up this fall...October. Strength and Honor.

The Drakes Bay Oyster Company


The SF Oyster Nerd


  1. i too am looking forward to enjoying a pleasant stroll through pristine "wilderness" as I starve to death!

  2. Your investigative journalism is as impressive as it is inspiring. Keep the spotlight shining bright Buzz.

  3. Greg, even being 3000 miles away, we can smell the odor of big brother trying to squash whatever seems to be getting in it's way. Let us know anything we can do to help DBOC. It is a class company and needs to continue. It honestly would be a shame for it to go under. Our entire country needs more of these, not fewer.