Judge denies Marin oyster company's bid to stay in business

A federal judge on Monday denied Drakes Bay Oyster Co.'s bid to remain in business, upholding Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision that shuttered the commercial shellfish operation on the Marin County coast.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that she lacked jurisdiction to review the decision by Salazar, who declined to renew a 40-year lease that gave oyster farm operator Kevin Lunny the right to operate in Drake's Estero.

The National Park Service, based on Salazar's decision, ordered Lunny to shut down the business by Feb. 28. The farm harvests 8 million oysters a year, worth about $1.5 million, from a 2,500-acre estuary designated as wilderness in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company


Lunny filed suit contending that Salazar's order violated federal rules and was based on faulty science.

The judge, who heard oral arguments in her Oakland courtroom on Jan. 25, said that even if she had jurisdiction, Lunny's arguments were unlikely to prevail.

Wilderness advocates who sought removal of the oyster farm hailed the decision and said they hoped it will bring the divisive issue to an end.

"It's time that we all move on," said Neal Desai, pacific region associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association. "This decision was very clear and straightforward."

Desai said the decision "affirms that our national parks will be safe from privatization schemes" and that national seashore land owned by taxpayers "will now be protected as planned after 40 years of waiting."

Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, said the court "rightly decided that Secretary Salazar had full discretion to let the oyster operation permit expire on its own terms and honor the 1976 wilderness designation for Drakes Estero."

The prolonged dispute pitted supporters of West Marin agriculture, who fear the loss of permits for onshore ranches in the national seashore, versus wilderness advocates who want all human activity removed from the estero.

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