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Ex-lawmakers join fight to keep Drakes Bay Oyster Company open

  • Rogelio Camacho, left, and Francisco Manzo pull up bags of oysters from the Drakes Bay Oyster Company's oyster farm in Drakes Estero in 2012. (PD FILE, 2012)

Two former California lawmakers who helped establish Point Reyes National Seashore have filed a federal court brief supporting a commercial oyster farm's right to continue harvesting shellfish in the park's protected waters.

William Bagley, a former Marin County assemblyman, and Pete McCloskey, a former Bay Area congressman, filed a 26-page brief this week supporting Drakes Bay Oyster Company's bid for a rehearing by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which rejected the company's case in September.

Their “friend of the court” brief challenged the legality of former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision nearly a year ago not to renew oyster farmer Kevin Lunny's permit to raise oysters in Drakes Estero, a 2,500-acre Pacific Ocean estuary.

The brief, backed by 11 other parties including the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, also asserted that even without a federal permit for use of the estero shoreline, Lunny could continue oyster cultivation under a state lease of the estero “water bottoms.”

Lunny, who plants and harvests $1.5 million worth of oysters a year from the estero, said he agreed with the brief's “legal analysis” but hasn't evaluated the prospect of working without a land base.

“We're still focused on getting the onshore permit,” he said. “If it gets denied, we have to look at those other options.”

Lunny's own lawyers last week asked the 9th Circuit to reconsider the 2-1 ruling that supported a government shutdown order based on Salazar's action last November.

The appeals court could take a few months to decide whether to submit Lunny's case to an 11-judge panel.

Bagley and McCloskey weighed in on the oyster company controversy in a 2011 letter to Salazar asserting that the Point Reyes seashore, created in 1962, was intended “to retain an oyster farm and California's only oyster cannery in the Drakes Estero.”

Bagley authored the 1965 state bill that transferred the Point Reyes tidelands to the National Park Service, and McCloskey secured $35 million from the Nixon administration for the 1972 purchase of the ranch lands surrounding the estero.

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