Oyster farming in Tomales Bay has been taking place for well over one hundred years. The nature of farming oysters means it is often done in hard to get to places, where common citizens seldom venture. During this lengthy time, a variety of growers with varying levels of respect for the environment, and poor to no oversight by the agencies tasked with protecting the coastal waters have left a legacy of trash throughout Tomales Bay that few people know is out there. Look here to see the many messes I speak of.
In the coming months, a number of oyster growing leases are up for renewal. It is critical that these leases, written decades ago, be updated to include Best Management Practices and that the loopholes in cleanup escrow accounts be closed so that each lease is clear on how Tomales Bay is to be cared for and the escrow funds can and will be used if need be for cleanup as intended.
These requests are not critical of Hog Island Oyster growing practices (whose lease is up for renewal at the 9-10 December CFGC meeting) and are intended as improvements to all leases for all growers. Hog Island is an exceptional grower that works hard to minimize lost gear and reduce the negative impacts of oyster growing on Tomales Bay. We want ALL growers held to the same improved standards and request that all future leases and lease renewals include the following language. Tomales Bay deserves improved protection from all oyster growers.
We also want the Fish & Game Commission and Department of Fish & Wildlife to use their role as “landlord” and “law enforcer” more effectively. Updating the lease language is a good first step and shows they intend to represent the best interests of the people of California. If California is to have one agency that both promotes oyster farming, as well as protects nature from oyster farming, that agency needs to take more seriously the protection part of their mission.
Lease M-430-15 held by Hog Island Oyster Company is up for renewal at the California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) meeting in San Diego on 9-10 December.
Please write the Executive Director of the CFGC and request that all new leases include the Best Management Practices described here and that loopholes concerning the cleanup escrow account be closed.
Please write this individual now! He needs to hear from you before these meetings.
Mr. Sonke Mastrup
California Fish and Game Commission
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090
Director Mastrup, please include the following Best Management practices in all new leases, sub-lease agreements and lease renewals.
Best Management Practices Required of Tomales Bay Oyster Farmers
- Each grower must use uniquely identifiable gear
Collected abandoned gear must have an easily known owner so that habitual litterers may be dealt with individually. To identify gear, growers must use unique bag colors and unique copper wire colors.
- Have 2 staff positions whose sole role is litter recovery
One person that does nothing but litter patrol and cleanup. A second rotating position so that all employees see the issues and learn to reduce litter during daily operations.
- Growers must continually strive to improve gear design to reduce lost gear
Conduct yearly meetings with third party monitor(s) to learn what is working, what is not.
- Replace single-use items such as litter-making zip-ties with reusable items such as stainless halibut clips
If copper wire is used, each grower has assigned colors. Growers will recover all copper wire once bags are collected at harvest.
- Prohibit the use of plastic wrapped blue foam and other easily degradable floats
Floats must be durable and resistant to pecking by birds. Floats must be securely attached to the oyster bag.
- Prohibit the current practice of tossing out loose bags at high tide
All bags must be securely connected in a string to prevent drifting and loss during the time between mass deployment and being tied to anchor lines.
- Prohibit leaving of tools and materials leases, inter-tidal areas, and all nearby areas.
Growers must remove all uninstalled PVC pipes, gloves, zip-ties, copper wire, ropes, hay hooks, bags and water bottles from lease areas each day.
- If a growing idea does not work, remove it promptly within 30 days.
Abandoned pilings, posts, PVC, machinery and other debris left in and around Tomales Bay are no longer allowed.
- At a minimum, growers must ensure monthly patrols of lease areas and shoreline for lost gear
Patrols will be increased to twice a month during high winds or storm events. Effective patrols must include walking shorelines and wetlands, and kayaks or other craft should be used for hard-to-reach areas to avoid damaging eelgrass with propellers.
Director Mastrup, please have third party, objective cleanup estiamtes done to determine the actual cleanup cost of all infrastructure used by oyster growers in ALL growing areas of California (Tomales Bay, Morro Bay, Humboldt Bay etc.). The Commission has made promises to address this since April, yet nothing has been communicated to interested parties on any progress in this very important matter.
Tomales Bay deserves strong protection so that future generations can enjoy this jewel.
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See the first post in this series “Save our Tomales Bay” here.