Oyster farm gets independent review

September 4, 2008 9:08:52 PM PDT
Does oyster farming harm the natural environment? It's a big question in Marin County, where the one remaining oyster farm may lose its lease from the National Park Service, but critics question the honesty of the research being used to try to shut it down. Now, an independent panel has stepped in.

Drake's Estero on the Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the purest bodies of water on California's coastline and is also one of the most political. That was demonstrated by what happened in a meeting room miles away on Thursday.

"Well, it's our family and it's our community that's on the line," said Kevin Lunney, an oyster farmer.

Of all the people in the room, Lunney would say he has the most at stake. Five years ago, his family bought an 80-year-old oyster farm on the estuary. Its lease from the National Park Service expires in 2012, and that department is not likely to renew it, citing scientific evidence that those oysters harm the environment.

"The Estero should be handled with the highest level of protection," said John Jarvis, from the National Parks Service.

"It is a beautiful, undisturbed resource that remains the best example of a working landscape that we have," said Lunney.

The parks study shows impact on all kinds of wildlife. Critics fault that work, and accuse the parks service of twisting facts for its own gain.

"Bad science. They misinterpreted the science. I believe it rises to the level of scientific misconduct," said Corey Goodman, Ph.D., an independent researcher.

So now the parks service has agreed to spend $400,000 for an independent study by the National Academy of Science.

The meeting was day one of the fact-finding.

Despite their differences between these two sides, both agree on one point. This will be an objective study, one that looks not only at oysters, but at the entire ecosystem.

"Our charge doesn't go to the politics of should the lease be renewed, that's not our scope. That's something that's decided by policy makers. Our charge is at the level of science," said Charles Paterson, Ph.D.

Friday, panel members visit the estuary for the first time. They will release their report in about a year and a half.


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