SAN FRANCISCO — Errors were made but there was no criminal conduct by National Park Service scientists assessing the environmental impact of a disputed oyster farm in Northern California, a federal investigation has found.
The Interior Department's Solicitor's Office said the scientists made mistakes that eroded public confidence when studying whether the operation of Drakes Bay Oyster Co. hurt seal populations and the environment in the pristine waters of Point Reyes National Seashore.
"Specifically, several NPS employees mishandled research in the form of photographic images showing the activities of humans, birds and harbor seals at upper Drakes Estero," the Interior Department said Tuesday.
Interior's probe came after a separate study by the National Academy of Sciences found park service officials exaggerated the operation's negative impact on the environment. The academy's investigators did not receive some 250,000 surveillance photos showing the oyster boats' interaction with harbor seals.
At issue is whether the 71-year-old oyster farm — the only such facility in the Point Reyes National Seashore — can extend its lease, which runs out next year. The farm, which produces 40 percent of the state's commercial oysters, is located in a small bay tucked into the green coastal hills of the park, about 50 miles north of San Francisco.