Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style.

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Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style. Click image to see larger version.

Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style.
Click image to see larger version.

Nearly 6000 HDPE (high-density polyethylene) tubes used in the production of oysters in Drakes Estero. One person picked up every one of these by hand over a period of 3.5 years. All were found as far south as Slide Ranch, just south of Stinson Beach, and as far north as the tip of Tomales Point, as well as all points in-between.

Those black (and one green) grow-out bags are a fraction of the bags I recovered. The green one was found in Tomales Bay and is likely from one of the growers that raise oysters in that body of water.

Read about HDPE here.

NOTE: It has been pointed out to me a number of times that these tubes are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), not poly-vinyl chloride (PVC). I am finally getting around to correcting that error. [2014.03.30]

See the next post in this series here

4 thoughts on “Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style.

  1. ANY argument that anyone can make for allowing oyster farming to continue could never sway me to think it was a good idea after seeing this . . . I pick these bloody things off of Doran Beach and never knew what they were until you’re description Richard. Nothing better than you’re visuals!

  2. Richard,

    Is there a way that the oyster company could conduct its business without having those tubes get out into the environment. I mean: Is this simply poor management or is it inevitable?



    • Hello Murray,

      I think your first question needs to be addressed to the oyster company, as I am not in the oyster farming business. For the past 4 years and several months, I have been in the business (unpaid) of exploring Point Reyes National Seashore. During that time I have gotten to know what washes ashore and where and when.

      After having thrown away hundreds of those plastic tubes along with all the other plastic items I have picked up, I asked a ranger what they might be. Bruce (now retired) told me that they were spacers used at Johnson’s (now DBOC) and that the bottom of The Estero was likely covered with them. I stopped tossing them that day. From then on I placed each one I found in a bag. That is how I came to have nearly 6000 of them. NOTE: After making the pictures of the pile of tubes in front of the DBOC sign, I returned all of them to DBOC, plus some containers to hold them which I also found.

      I have been told, and read, that Charlie Johnson ran a pretty loose operation. When he pulled strings of oysters off the racks, he’d pull the wire out, get the oysters, and not pay much thought to where the plastic spacers ended up. So many of those 6000 tubes are likely remnants from “back in the day”.

      I have seen with my own eyes as I walked around the DBOC operation, or boated by, how materials are often left laying all over the place, close to the water, without much care to what high wind or high water might do to them. Materials including pvc spacers. Two years ago, after one particularly heavy surf event, (18-20 foot swells with high winds) I picked up 722 spacers in a matter of 4-5 hours from Drakes Beach and Horseshoe Pond/lagoon. Before that day my one day record was in the 200-300’s. After that day I had several days over 400.

      I’ve read where DBOC stated they use old spacers from the Johnson’s era, as well as newly minted ones. So it is hard to know under whose watch the spacers came from. I have found plenty of them that look like brand new pipe, so I’d figure those are from the DBOC era for sure. Johnson’s was in business for decades, DBOC for less than one decade.

      In my mind, when DBOC bought the lease, they bought the profit potential as well as the liabilities, past and present.

      Given the magnifying glass DBOC has been under since I moved up this way, I could never figure out why they did not have somebody out picking up their mess, instead of me. It did not take me long to figure out when the tubes and grow-out bags would be plentiful in the wrack relative to the weather.

      So, is it possible to grow oysters without trashing the planet? From what I have seen in Tomales Bay, the growers there lose gear either in heavy surf/winds or from human error. In many places out by Walker Creek, there are hundreds of bags just laying in the mud, growing. If a heavy surf comes through, those bags get moved all over the place. So it seems that all operations leave their mark. We humans have to decide if we are going to turn a blind eye so we can enjoy shellfish and not think of the true cost to the planet of producing food we like. Or are we going to charge a price that allows the grower to produce said food in a responsible manner that we, our children and all the other species that occupy the planet can live with. This applies to all human activities, so some might say, why pick on DBOC. Drakes Estero is within a “special place”, set aside to protect from us humans and our demanding ways. It is the first place, in my mind, we ought to clean up our act.

      Tomales Bay is NOT a national seashore, whereas Drakes Estero is part of one, hence the heightened scrutiny. Personally, I think we should treat the entire planet with more respect than we do, not just some areas because a line exists on a map.

      I hope I answered your questions Murray.


      the coastodian

      • I am a graduate student studying the oyster industry. Yes, there are other ways to produce oysters without the use of those plastic tubes. Here on the east coast I have never seen them used. Most growers use on-bottom cages that are durable and made of coated stainless steel. The use of those cages however requires a power-winch and boat, which inevitably entails carbon emissions. We also used on-shore and off-dock nurseries for rearing spat until they are large enough for cages. Not sure how Drakes Bay raises their oysters so I don’t have any knowledge of why they use those plastic tubes.

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