Big news today for oyster fans: In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied Drakes Bay Oyster Farm's suit to stay open. The oyster company, which operates on the 2,500-acre Drakes Estero up near Point Reyes, was ordered to close last December by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who declined to renew the farm's operating permit on the grounds that the land should return to wilderness.
Drakes Estero was designated as "potential wilderness" by the Point Reyes National Wilderness Act of 1976, which dictated that after the oyster company's 40-year operating permit expired in 2012, the land would become full marine wilderness -- the highest government protection for land and the first of its kind on the West Coast.
This is a win for environmental groups who fought for the oyster company to be removed from the land. "The court ruling affirms that our national parks will be preserved and is another step closer to being protected as wilderness for the American people. Incredibly beautiful places like Drakes Estero need to be returned to their full splendor as Congress determined decades ago when the land was purchased by and for the American public. We have been waiting for this moment for 40 years," says Neal Desai, Associate Director of the Pacific Region for the National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement.
When we reached Drakes Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny, he hadn't even had time to read through today's decision, let alone parse what it meant. "It's a disappointing day," he says. "I can't get my mind off what this really means for Marin County and for the San Francisco Bay Area. What it means for West Marin, our history and culture of a small coastal community. What it means for all the people whose jobs depend on this, all the families who enjoy coming out and learning where their food comes from and enjoying fresh, sustainable seafood."
As I wrote in a lengthy feature on the battle over Drakes Bay Oyster Company back in May, the closing of the oyster farm will likely have an impact on local oyster consumption. The farm employs nearly two dozen workers, and provides a significant source of half-shell and shucked oysters to the Bay Area. More than 50,000 people visit the farm every year.
The farm should still be open this weekend, if you want to drive up and eat a few dozen fresh oysters before it closes its doors. Directions from San Francisco can be found on the farm's website.
UPDATE, 9/4: Drakes Bay Oyster Company announced today that it is petitioning for a rehearing on the case, and will remain open in the interim.