Tomales Bay Disrespected – PROC still making a mess of Tomales Bay, FGC poised to renew leases anyhow???

Point Reyes Oyster Company (PROC) has been making a mess of Tomales Bay for decades. While long overdue, this past February the California Fish & Game Commission properly denied PROC’s 15-year lease renewal request on two leases to grow oysters & clams in Tomales Bay.

The leases were extended for up to twelve months to give PROC time to clean up the unacceptable mess of marine debris they’d made and show that they could raise oysters & clams in a responsible manner with a modicum of stewardship for our public lands.

When the agenda for the June meeting of the Fish & Game Commission arrived in my in-box last week, I was angry and disheartened because I knew that the substantial marine debris issues that I and others had raised previously have still not been addressed. This is very troubling, and that is why I plan to travel to Bakersfield next week to urge the Commission to continue to delay PROC’s 15-year lease renewal request until the company has demonstrated for a minimum of six (6) continuous months that it can be a responsible oyster operator on our public lands in Tomales Bay.

If you care about the health of our bay and the planet, please write California Fish & Game Commission at fgc@fgc.ca.gov and request that they NOT renew leases for Point Reyes Oyster Company until PROC proves it is a responsible grower and does everything possible to minimize loss of gear AND regularly patrols the bay and picks up the gear they do lose. I do not have a problem with our State leasing public water bottom lands for oyster growing so long as the oyster operators treat these leases as the privilege that they are, and exercise a stewardship ethic for Tomales Bay that is also part of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and don’t add significant amounts of marine debris to our ecosystem. Once PROC has actually demonstrated that it can be a responsible oyster operator for six months, I would be happy to support its longer lease renewal. However, I cannot support the company receiving a lucrative lease on our public lands at this time given their very poor care of Tomales Bay.

Here is text from the “outcomes” section of February’s FGC meeting during which the leases were NOT renewed:

 
11. Point Reyes Oyster Company, Inc. State water bottom leases for aquaculture

(A) Approve request to renew State Water Bottom Lease No. M-430-13
(Pursuant to Section 15406, Fish and Game Code)

(B) Approve request to renew State Water Bottom Lease No. M-430-17
(Pursuant to Section 15406, Fish and Game Code)

Received public comment.

The Commission approved a one-year extension of state water bottom lease Nos.
M-430-13 and M-430-17 under existing terms and conditions in lieu of lease
renewal, to allow the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Region to
evaluate terms of a lease renewal, use of best management practices, and any other details that would be important for this lease. The Commission will consider renewal once lease practices and terms are clarified and resolved.

Ayes: E. Sklar, J. Hostler-Carmesin, A. Williams

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Have a look at the images below and decide for yourself if PROC has made any significant progress in reducing the amount of plastic, plastic coated copper wire, rubber and other gear abandoned in Tomales Bay as they profit from the the very same waters.

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Here we see a small portion of lease 17 near the mouth of Walker Creek where PROC appears to be growing oysters with the bag & rack method.

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This image was recorded on March 14, 2015 Notice the bags strewn all over the bay floor.
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Another image from March 14, 2015
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Shortly after their lease renewals were denied, PROC workers came out to collect loose gear and straighten up the same area. The workers told me to come out in two weeks and I would not recognize the place it would be so clean.
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©RJames.IMG_3297

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Two main things were done during this cleanup. 1) PROC workers collected dozens of bags no longer securely fastened to the iron racks designed to contain them. 2) Instead of securing the bags with plastic coated copper wire (which PROC has been dropping into the bay during harvest for many. many years), they changed fasteners and used rubber straps and plastic coated metal clips.

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18 days after the cleanup, we see the bags are starting to come loose again. Close inspection reveals the straps are being stretched too tight and snapping. I shared this information with DFW staff as well as two oyster growers (I did not have PROC email info at that time)©RJames.IMG_3830

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Nearly 4 months months after their cleanup, we see the area closely resembles how it looked 18 months BEFORE the cleanup, bags loose and again at the mercy of wind and tides.
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That tightly stretched rubber strap above is about to snap, letting this bag to be carried by wind and current.
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Not only is the new method to secure bags to racks by PROC NOT working, it is releasing yet another type of plastic debris into Tomales Bay. The image below shows what was collected in 1.5 hours from Lease 17 run by PROC.

plastic coated copper wire, rusty iron rods, white plastic coated metal clips, rubber straps, zip-ties and rope with stainless clips collected from lease 17 on 5 June, 2016.

plastic coated copper wire, rusty iron rods, white plastic coated metal clips, rubber straps, zip-ties and rope with stainless clips collected from lease 17 on 5 June, 2016.

The loose bags are bad enough when they blight our beaches, or in less than a month become embedded, invisible parts of the ecosystem.
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This bag lay here for less than 3 weeks.

This bag lay here for less than 3 weeks.

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The bigger problem is when these bags are struck by boat props and cut into pieces which present a hazard to wildlife which eat this small plastic debris. One local fisherman caught a tuna 50 miles offshore with a small piece of oyster grow out bag embedded in its flesh. Plastic like that below embedded in the flesh of tuna.

Tiny shards of plastic oyster farming debris collected in Tomales Bay. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

Tiny shards of plastic oyster farming debris collected in Tomales Bay.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

Shards of plastic oyster farming debris collected in Tomales Bay. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

Shards of plastic oyster farming debris collected in Tomales Bay.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

Shards of plastic oyster farming debris collected in Tomales Bay. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

Shards of plastic oyster farming debris collected in Tomales Bay.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

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If you care about the health of our bay and the planet, please write California Fish & Game Commission at fgc@fgc.ca.gov and request that they NOT renew leases for Point Reyes Oyster Company until PROC proves it is a responsible grower and does everything possible to minimize loss of gear AND regularly patrols the bay and picks up the gear they do lose. I do not have a problem with our State leasing public water bottom lands for oyster growing so long as the oyster operators treat these leases as the privilege that they are, and exercise a stewardship ethic for Tomales Bay that is also part of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and don’t add significant amounts of marine debris to our ecosystem. Once PROC has actually demonstrated that it can be a responsible oyster operator for six months, I would be happy to support its longer lease renewal. However, I cannot support the company receiving a lucrative lease on our public lands at this time given their very poor care of Tomales Bay.

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Save our Tomales Bay – 41 Oyster growers put on notice by fish & game commission!

Click the words above “Save our Tomales Bay …” to see this entire post

For the past four years I’ve paddled, snorkled and walked in and around Tomales Bay as I enjoy this jewel of nature. Drawn to the natural beauty, I’ve recorded thousands of images of the bay and those who call it home.

Humans make their home along the shore of Tomales Bay, recreate in the bay and along the shore, as well as extract a living by growing non-native shellfish in the waters of the bay.

Unfortunately, humans are too often careless in how we treat our home, which also happens to be home to thousands of other species too.

I’ve made it a mission of mine to clean up and protect Tomales Bay from further degradation.

In service of this mission, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year sharing my findings with the growers and government agencies tasked with protecting nature from us humans. This past week I took another day off work (my fifth over the last year) to drive to Sacramento and speak to the Fish & Game Commission (FGC) on the topic of renewing two leases operated by Point Reyes Oyster Company (PROC) to grow oysters & clams in Tomales Bay. PROC is a company whose questionable practices have had a huge and horrible impact on Tomales Bay. I was shocked to hear that these leases were going to be renewed for another fifteen years.

Thankfully, after hearing from myself and others, the FGC decided to NOT renew these leases. Rather, FGC gave a one year lease extension to PROC. Time to correct past mistakes, clean up debris and prove oysters & clams can be grown in Tomales Bay without destroying Tomales Bay.

This happened 8 days ago.

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Click on the image to see a larger version

PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

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Five days later, this past Monday, five PROC workers were on their northern lease (lease 17) to pick up bags of dead clams & oysters littering the bay, secure bags of oysters to racks that were long ago pushed off by the tides far and wide. Pick up broken iron racks and bits of racks and hundreds, possibly thousands of lengths of plastic coated copper wire dropped in the bay to rot and leach plastic into the very waters in which these oysters grow. One of their workers assured me that the next day there would be ten workers on this task and that if I came back in two weeks, I’d not recognize the place. I happily took him up on his offer.

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PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

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PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

PROC workers undoing years of neglect in Tomales Bay at Walker Creek.
©Richard James – coastodian.org

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An oyster lease in disarray, leakng plastic into Tomales Bay, the Pacific Ocean. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

An oyster lease in disarray, leakng plastic into Tomales Bay, the Pacific Ocean. ©Richard James – coastodian.org

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An oyster lease tended with pride, showing respect to Tomales Bay. ©Richard James - coastodian.org

An oyster lease tended with pride, showing respect to Tomales Bay. ©Richard James – coastodian.org

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At the same meeting PROC was denied lease renewal, Tomales Bay Oyster Company (TBOC) was given their formal non-renewal (a one year lease extension) for one of their two leases. Since learning of their non-renewal, TBOC has stepped up their efforts in cleaning up the bay in which they make their living.

I applaud and thank TBOC and PROC in stepping up to undo the damage caused by years of shoddy practices. It is my sincere hope each company continues to refine their work practices and strive to grow oysters in a truly responsible, sustainable way.

I also applaud the FGC in not rubber-stamp renewing these leases. Instead, sending a clear message to growers that the public is watching and demanding that growers respect the bay while extracting profit from public waters. They too need to refine their processes, update lease agreements written decades ago, regularly send their staff out to monitor the public lands in their care.

Dept. of Fish & Wildlife staff explained to me that these extensions are for up to 12 months. If these growers can demonstrate by authentic, continual action that they have corrected their many years of neglect in less time, the topic of lease renewal can be brought before the FGC sooner. Let’s hope they do.

This past week has been a huge one. I look forward to reporting on many more successes of a similar nature.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – 40 Point Reyes Oyster Company put on notice – lease not renewed

Click the words above “Save our Tomales Bay …” to see this entire post

At today’s California Fish & Game Commission meeting the commission voted unanimously to not renew two state water bottom leases operated by Point Reyes Oyster Company (PROC).

The Commission voted to give PROC a one year lease extension instead. This is time for PROC to clean up their mess, improve their processes and show they can grow oysters without damaging Tomales Bay and all that lives in it.

I applaud and thank the commission for taking this action and look forward to working with them as they develop Best Management Practices (BMP) and other lease template improvements to bring their aging lease agreements up to current standards.

Tomales Bay deserves strong protection from businesses profiting from it.

Tomales Bay deserves strong protection from businesses profiting from it.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – 39 Leasewalk M430-17, Point Reyes Oyster Company, a 2nd look

Click the words above “Save our Tomales Bay – 39 Leasewalk M430-17…” to see this entire post.

March 2015 I shared some disturbing images of an area used (misused) by Point Reyes Oyster Company to grow oysters using a method known as rack & bag culture. Click here to see that post.

August 2015 a meeting was held at Marconi Center in Marshall where most growers and most agencies with jurisdiction over Tomales Bay were present. The owner of PROC was present as I made a presentation on the state of the messes left by mariculture practices in Tomales Bay for nearly a century. See that presentation here.

At this meeting, the owner of PROC stated that he did not like losing gear and would appreciate it if I, or anyone else that found his abandoned oyster/clam bags would simply return them to him.

Another attendee of this meeting, Tom Baty mentioned that as the leader of the Tomales Bay cleanup project for 11 years, this group, at the suggestion of the growers, would leave found bags at the boat ramp at Marconi Cove for the growers to pickup. Tom stated that no bags were ever picked up by the growers.

November 2015 I recorded images of this area yet again. It appears that no effort had been made to pick up any of the bags strewn about on the bay bottom. Watch the 6 minute video below and see for yourself.

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Click on this image, then clcik again to se it in great detail.

Overhead view of rack & bag culture area on lease M-430-17.

Overhead view of rack & bag culture area on lease M-430-17.

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Harsh winds and waves disperses these bags all over the bay. In the wetlands at the mouth of Walker Creek, in less than three weeks, salt grass and pickleweed grow through the mesh and almost completely cover a grow out bag, making it a permanent and invisible part of the precious ecosystem that is Tomales Bay.

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This bag lay here for less than 3 weeks.

This bag lay here for less than 3 weeks.

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If growers what to continue to use public waters to make a profit, they need to show greater respect for the planet. Improving their methods so they lose less gear, and recovering any lost gear themselves.

Likewise, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife needs to take a more active role in enforcing litter laws and actually monitoring the leases they administer on a regular basis.

In the future, additional coastodians near Morro Bay and Humboldt Bay will help ensure growers adhere to Best Management Practices [soon to be included in all mariculture leases]. These new coastodians will also monitor the job being done by agencies whose mission is oversight of growers profiting from public lands and waters

Each year, 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the seas of our tiny planet. Each of us needs to redouble our efforts in making sure we are not adding to that number, and, that we do all we can to help others meet the same goal.

According to a recent report by The World Economic Forum, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.

CSIRO researchers predict that plastic ingestion will affect 99 per cent of the world’s seabird species by 2050, based on current trends. Study abstract here.

Be sure to click to watch on a large screen and click the small rectangular icon in the lower right of the video window to view in full-screen mode.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.

Save our Tomales Bay – Part 22 Leasewalk M430-17, Point Reyes Oyster Company

Click the words above “Save our Tomales Bay – Part 22 Leasewalk M430-17…” to see this entire post.

On 14 March I paid a visit to the large lease operated by Point Reyes Oyster Company (PROC) at the mouth of Walker Creek.

Below you can see some images showing the state of this leased area on that day.

I have lifted and shaken many bags on this lease, and as far as I can tell, all the oysters in these bags are dead.

Other oyster growers may be dropping zip ties by the thousands into Tomales Bay, but Point Reyes Oyster Company seems to prefer to drop plastic coated copper wire with the same fervor.

Can all this plastic and copper be good for the native organisms living (trying to live) in Tomales Bay?

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Area in bright polygon depicts lease M-430-17, the area shown in the images below.

Area in bright polygon depicts lease M-430-17, the area shown in the images below.

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Grow-out bags laying in the mud, racks in a state of disrepair on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Grow-out bags laying in the mud, racks in a state of disrepair on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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About 20 pounds of plastic coated copper wire i picked up from under the racks, laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

About 20 pounds of plastic coated copper wire i picked up from under the racks, laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Mystery cloth serving unknown purpose (other than littering) on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Mystery cloth serving unknown purpose (other than littering) on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Mystery cloth serving unknown purpose (other than littering) on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Mystery cloth serving unknown purpose (other than littering) on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Mystery cloth serving unknown purpose (other than littering) on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Mystery cloth serving unknown purpose (other than littering) on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Abandoned grow-out bag laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Abandoned grow-out bag laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Abandoned grow-out bag laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Abandoned grow-out bag laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Grow-out bags laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Grow-out bags laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Grow-out bags laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Grow-out bags laying in the mud on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Racks in a state of disrepair on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Racks in a state of disrepair on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Grow-out bags laying in the mud, racks in a state of disrepair on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

Grow-out bags laying in the mud, racks in a state of disrepair on lease M-430-17, run by Point Reyes Oyster Company.

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Next related post may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.