Oyster farm report critical of NPS research

November 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
ABC7 has been reporting on a controversy over the future of an oyster farm in the North Bay for more than four years. Tuesday afternoon an impartial and independent analysis by the Marine Mammal Commission was released.

The much anticipated report by the Marine Mammal Commission reviews claims by the National Park Service and environmentalists that the oyster farm is hurting harbor seals.

The report is critical of the park's research, stating that existing scientific research "... provide some support for the conclusion ...." The commission says the current research "...scant and have been stretched to their limit...." adding that "...the data and analyses are not sufficient to demonstrate a causal relationship."

"We see now that the Marine Mammal Commission agrees with the National Academy of Sciences report that basically says that the data is insufficient and can't come to the conclusions that that the Park Service has come to," Drake's Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny said.

Lunny bought the former Johnson's Oyster Farm in 2004 and renamed it Drake's Bay Oyster Company. He hoped to turn around the failing business and renew the lease when it expired in 2012. The state has already renewed his rights to farm the water.

But environmentalists and the National Park Service say the land the farm sits on was intended to be wilderness. They say the report does say that the farm may be impacting wildlife and therefore it should go.

"The Marine Mammal Commission report which has been long waited by the public and the National Park Service validates the National Park Service research that shows there is a correlation between increased oyster use and decreased seal use of the estero," National Parks Conservation Association spokesperson Neal Desai said.

The commission's report found that more research needs to be done to prove conclusively that the farm is harming harbor seals. It said, "Additional, carefully guided study would be required to determine if the apparent relationship is one of cause and effect."

The report describes a number of shortcomings in the current data analysis used by the National Park Service. It found that the National Park Service needed to improve its procedures for how it collected seal disturbance data.

It also suggested a further review of more than 250,000 photos that were secretly taken of the farm which the National Park Service has yet to analyze.

Late Tuesday, the National Park Service told ABC7 that as a result of the commission's findings, they have extended the environmental review process now underway. That review will determine the oyster farm's future. The park superintendent pointed out that the "report concludes that from time to time, mariculture activities in the estuary do disturb harbor seals." "The National Park Service is gratified that the work of our scientists has been thoroughly analyzed and supported by experts in the field."

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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