Best Management Practices for California aquaculture – still waiting for them…

Below you will find an update on my ongoing efforts to protect Tomales Bay from the historically poor practices of shellfish growers, and a long history of virtually no oversight by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) and the California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC). The CFGC leases state water bottoms in California to shellfish growers. Given the shortage of suitable coastline with clean water, you’d think the CFGC would be charging a premium rent (supply and demand). You would be wrong. More on that in a future post.

If you care for Tomales Bay and want to protect it, please write the following people and tell them to implement and enforce strong Best Management Practices over shellfish growers. Tell them to fix the woefully inadequate escrow cleanup bond system. And kindly ask them to make a better effort at enforcing existing litter laws and to regularly monitor aquaculture statewide. Our state bays and estuaries are priceless treasures for ALL to enjoy.

Valerie Termini – Executive Director of California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) – Sacramento, CA fgc@fgc.ca.gov

Susan Ashcraft – Marine Advisor to the California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) – Sacramento, CA Susan.Ashcraft@fgc.ca.gov

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Responsibly practiced shellfish aquaculture, properly sited, adds value to life in the form of delicious shellfish, jobs and the continuation of a long tradition. Authentic stewardship is paramount to assuring this practice does no harm to the precious bays and estuaries of the ever changing (and rising) sea.

Three things I have been requesting since I set out to right numerous wrongs are:

1) Growers need to stop losing so much plastic, wood and other gear. They also need to regularly pick up the debris that they do lose. All of the legacy debris left by growers from days gone by needs to be removed from the bay.

2)      A. Best Management Practices (BMP) need to be developed and become an   enforceable part of being allowed to profit from public trust tidelands.

2)      B. The cleanup fund escrow system to address abandoned infrastructure and other damages done to a lease needs to be redone so that it is actually applied, AND is not based on cost estimates made by the growers themselves.

3) CFGC and CDFW need to actually DO their job: regular monitoring of leases, enforce existing laws, ensure growers are not diverting creeks with un-permitted structures or altering the bay-floor by dumping large quantity of oyster shells or other materials into the bay.

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Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

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1) Growers need to stop losing so much plastic, wood and other gear. They also need to regularly pick up the debris that they do lose. All of the legacy debris left by growers from days gone by needs to be removed from the bay.

This is taking place. The growers are losing less gear and making a noticeable effort to pick up that gear still getting loose.

There is still room for improvement, as bags and other culturing devices are still getting loose. But overall, a vast improvement!

Thank you growers!

Unfortunately, much of the legacy debris continues to blight the beauty of Tomales Bay. You can see what I am talking about here.

2-A Best Management Practices (BMP) need to be developed and become an   enforceable part of being allowed to profit from public trust tidelands.

On April 8, 2015 (1087 days ago and counting), a proposed list of BMP that I drafted were delivered to the CFGC at their commission meeting in Santa Rosa. The growers and numerous agencies have mulled over and massaged this list since then.

The latest revision put forth by the CFGC is very close to what I originally proposed, except it does not include that growers must mark all their gear with their name & phone number. Marking all gear is important in order to ensure growers practice authentic stewardship.

My most recent iteration of what I think are good common sense BMP are below.

 

These BMPs shall be an integral part of each lease. The practices shall be mandatory practices meant to ensure Tomales Bay and the ocean in general is kept free of lost plastic and other debris from aquaculture operations.

To have the intended effect of reducing litter in Tomales Bay attributed to aquaculture, it is imperative that these practices be adequately and regularly enforced.

Harming the environment is a criminal matter, not an administrative matter.

 

  1. Growers shall uniquely and clearly identify all of their gear with company name and phone number. Possible means of uniquely marking gear include: unique colors of bags, wires, tags, PVC pipes, rope, and “branding info into gear.”

 

  1. Growers shall train all employees in concepts of Leave No Trace, see http://LNT.org, or similar training about environmental stewardship.

 

  1. Growers shall continually improve gear and methods in a quest to lose less gear.

 

  1. Growers shall replace single use items (i.e. zip-ties, copper wires) with more durable items such as stainless halibut clips.

 

  1. Growers shall NOT use floats that are easily degraded by sunlight or pecked by birds in search of food.

 

  1. Growers shall securely tie large groups of non-floating bags together when deploying bags for future securing to anchor lines to ensure they do not drift.

 

  1. Growers shall remove all tools and materials each day after working on lease areas, including: fencepost drivers, gloves, water bottles, PVC pipes, wires, and ropes. Work barges shall be secured to ensure items are not blown into the bay.

 

  1. Growers shall NOT dump shells, lumber, bags or other debris on the bay floor to walk upon or for any reason.

 

  1. Growers shall promptly (within 90 days) remove culture structures and other items comprising a method that did not work as desired or is no longer used.

 

  1. Growers shall patrol lease areas and the shores of Tomales Bay on a monthly basis, twice monthly during windy or heavy surf times. Patrols must occur at both high and low tides to ensure gear buried in the mud is promptly collected.

 

  1. Growers shall uniquely and clearly identify all of their boats and barges. Boats should be clearly identifiable with binoculars from a distance of 1 mile. Unique color, large letter and/or number or combinations of these may work.

 

To support item 11 above, the below images show some of the boats used by various growers. Notice how many of the boats look identical. Also shown is one suggested ID method to allow distant observers to know which grower a particular boat belongs to. Also, how many of these boats are properly licensed?

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The reason for my concern centers on the damage done to the eel grass beds on or near the leases. Below are three images recorded from overhead, showing deep and permanent damage done to the eel grass by the propellers of boats accessing the lease areas.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

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On numerous occasions I have witnessed oyster boats operating at low tides, attempting to access areas of the bay not deep enough to access without driving the prop of the boat into the bottom of the bay, destroying everything that the prop meets, like a blender, loudly throwing a tall, brown rooster-tail into the air, easily visible/audible from a mile+ away.

If boats were clearly labeled, interested stakeholders would be able to give the Commission/Department accurate information with which to hopefully take action.

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The below images show the reasoning behind item 8.

Growers shall NOT dump shells, lumber, bags or other debris on the bay floor to walk upon or for any reason.

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2-B The cleanup fund escrow system to address abandoned infrastructure needs to be redone so that it is actually applied, AND is not based on cost estimates made by the growers themselves.

The figure below (from K. Ramey files acquired via Public Records Access [PRA]) shows how much has been contributed (allegedly) by each grower. Total on account (allegedly) is $106,255.

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Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Below is an image showing part of the main contract paid by the NPS for the cleanup of aquaculture debris left by DBOC in Drakes Estero. This is not the entire sum. Beyond the $3,460,750 shown below were other substantial fees associated with the removal of oysters and clams left by DBOC.

Important to note is the self-assessed cleanup cost given to the Fish & Game Commission by DBOC for two years running: $10,000

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Click on the image to enlarge it.

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Below are images of some current leases, showing rough dimensions as well as the amount paid into the escrow fund.

These values are self-assessed cost estimates provided by the growers.

Have you ever been asked by a landlord how much of a cleaning deposit you think you ought to pay?

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3) CFGC and CDFW need to actually DO their job: regular monitoring of leases, enforce existing laws, ensure growers are not diverting creeks with un-permitted structures or altering the bay-floor by dumping large quantity of oyster shells or other materials into the bay.

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This request needs no further support.

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The slide seen below was created by the State Aquaculture Coordinator.
The yellow text I have highlighted reads: “Emphasize CA’s strict environmental standards as advantage”

How can one have an advantage based on strict standards if the laws those standards are based on are not enforced?

Please enforce current laws!

Click image to enlarge it.

If you care for Tomales Bay and want to protect it, please write the following people and tell them to implement and enforce strong Best Management Practices over shellfish growers. Tell them to fix the woefully inadequate escrow cleanup bond system. And kindly ask them to make a better effort at enforcing existing litter laws and to regularly monitor aquaculture statewide. Our state bays and estuaries are priceless treasures for ALL to enjoy.

Valerie Termini – Executive Director of California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) – Sacramento, CA fgc@fgc.ca.gov

Susan Ashcraft – Marine Advisor to the California Fish & Game Commission (CFGC) – Sacramento, CA Susan.Ashcraft@fgc.ca.gov

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Respect Tomales Bay – TBOC makes a huge effort, cleaning up legacy trash left by others.

Click on the words above “Respect Tomales Bay – TBOC makes a huge effort…” to see this entire post.

Ten days ago while walking the mudflats at the mouth of Walker Creek I came across a most interesting find.

A large amount of abandoned oyster racks and grow out bags.

Now, those of you that follow my efforts on Tomales Bay might say, “Richard, what is so interesting about abandoned oyster racks and grow out bags? You have been finding and ranting about that stuff for a few years now…yawn.”

Well, let me tell you what is so interesting about this particular find.

As you may know by now, a series of unpermitted fences meant to redirect the flow of Walker Creek have blighted The Bay for upwards of 15 years. You can read about these structures here, here, here and here for starters.

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Here are two images showing one such fence before removal, as it was on 17 January, 2015.

Now removed Walker Creek diverting pile of plastic and oyster shells.

Now removed Walker Creek diverting pile of plastic and oyster shells.

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Those fences were removed last year before an epic series of storms graced the area with much needed rain, rain that made its way down Walker Creek with a full head of steam. Instead of being shunted to the north by a wall of plastic bags, PVC pipes, concrete pilings, plastic-coated copper wire and zip-ties – all that lovely water was once again allowed to run freely.

The huge volume of water that poured naturally through what had for 15 or more years been a mudflat uncovered an enormous amount of abandoned iron racks and plastic bags (many filled with dead non-native oysters). This debris was left there after the 1982 epic flood that buried much, if not all of the oysters being farmed by International Shellfish Corporation.

Of course I made photographs and recorded Lat/Lon waypoints of this find.

I shared this information with all the current growers (including TBOC, on whose lease this legacy debris had remained hidden all these years), as well as some of the alphabet soup of agencies responsible for caring for the precious coastline – CFGC, CFDW, CCC amongst them.

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Map showing debris and where it was located (click on map for larger image)

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Unable to lift out this mess myself due to an injured back (from lifting non-oyster farming debris out of the bay a month prior), I gave this information to the growers and agencies and hoped that someone would take the ball and run, before the tides once again covered it back up.

The next day, most, if not all of the TBOC crew was onsite pulling this gear out of the mud, piling it along the newly formed channel. How awesome is that!

A big thank you to TBOC for stepping up to remove gear that was on public land which they lease, though not their gear. They recovered 223 bags, some still with dated tags from 1980 on them, as well as many hundreds of pounds of sharp, rusty iron racks.

Let’s hope other growers on the bay follow this lead and remove legacy gear from public land they now lease, littered with gear from years ago. Ideally the agencies tasked with regulating aquaculture on public lands will pitch in to help current growers deal with messes left by those that came before them.

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Debris recovered and removed by TBOC!

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Image showing location where legacy debris was removed by TBOC staff. Red line shows location of former unpermitted creek-deflecting berm.

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Image showing location where legacy debris was removed by TBOC staff. Red line shows location of former unpermitted creek-deflecting berm.

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Removing the vast amount of Oyster Farming Legacy (OFL – rhymes with awful) is not as simple as heading out and picking up this stuff. Some permits are needed in order to do needed cleanup work in the coastal zone. Permits that TBOC had in hand to effect the (almost) complete removal of the last of their creek-deflecting structures.

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What must now happen is for the Fish & Game Commission and Department of Fish & Wildlife to step up and take responsibility for their growers of days gone by (some under their watch, some before their watch began) and do the necessary leg work to secure permits for the removal of the remaining OFL blighting Tomales Bay, as well as make the removal happen. Growing shellfish along the coast is OK by me, as long as it is done truly sustainably, by those practicing Authentic Stewardship.

Now more than ever we need to protect the environment.

Undoing the damages from past practices, as well as incorporating Best Management Proactices (BMPs) into leases and redesigning the cleanup fund escrow system to remove the numerous conflict of interest issues, as well as to give it teeth make good sense. This is especially important in light of the new application to practice aquaculture in Tomales Bay that has been recently submitted.
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Below are images showing some of the debris still left all around Tomales Bay by growers of yesteryear needing to be removed by Authentic Stewards.

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Some of the many dozens of sharp, rusty iron racks littering Tomales Bay, presenting a danger to all who boat there.

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Some of the many dozens of sharp, rusty iron racks littering Tomales Bay, presenting a danger to all who boat there.

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Four telephone-sized treated pilings and ten or so sharp rusty racks, all abandoned in The Bay long ago.

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140+ treated pilings abandoned long ago near Tom’s Point.

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Century old bat-ray fence abandoned long ago, now causing sedimentation in the southern bay as well as providing hard substrate for the invasive oyster drill to colonize upon as well as lay many, many thousands of eggs. These oyster drills prey upon the threatened native Olympia Oyster

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Drakes Estero Triptych – cleanup continues

Click the words above “Drakes Estero Triptych – Cleanup continues” to see this entire post.

17 September is Coastal Cleanup Day in California (as well as many other places around the globe).

Drakes Estero is getting a much deserved sprucing up with the removal of 5 lineal miles of treated wood racks that have been there for many decades. Tons of live and dead oysters, clams, plastic tubes of various sizes, plastic bags, lumber and other detritus from the oyster farm still on the bottom of Drakes Estero will also be removed so that the Estero can return to a more natural, unencumbered part of the global ecosystem.

The piles of lumber seen below are from a little less than 10 racks that have been removed so far.

There are over 90 racks total to remove.

This wood is drying in the sun to reduce the weight to be hauled to special dump sites which allow toxic material.

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Click here to read more about the oyster farming operation that last farmed oysters in Drakes Estero.

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Save our Tomales Bay – part 18, Walker Creek mess, construction

Click the words above “Save our Tomales Bay – part 18,…” to see this entire post.

We’ve had some strong weather around these parts.

Witness the following images recorded today (29 Dec) showing the area at the mouth of Walker Creek.

There are four different oyster-farming leaseholders at this location. Maybe you can determine who runs which lease…

As always, click on an image to see a larger version.

©Richard James - coastodian.org - Here is one way to operate a lease....

©Richard James – coastodian.org – Here is one way to operate a lease….


©Richard James - coastodian.org - And here is another way....

©Richard James – coastodian.org – And here is another way….


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


Seems some new construction has been going on in Tomales Bay.

A fence, of sorts has sprung up.

©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org

To get an idea where it is located, here are two images from Google Earth showing waypoints I marked when at this new structure.

Fence in Google Earth


Here is a closeup version of the image above.

The red line shows where two "fences" are in Tomales Bay. Note the length of these structures, as well as the length of a previous structure from last year that is no longer present, yet shown in the google earth image from last year.

The red line shows where two “fences” are in Tomales Bay. Note the length of these structures, as well as the length of a previous structure from last year that is no longer present, yet shown in the google earth image from last year.


Click on image to see larger version

©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org - Plastic coated copper wire left as so much garbage....This sort of dis-respect of the very environment being  capitalized upon really irks me.

©Richard James – coastodian.org – Plastic coated copper wire left as so much garbage….This sort of dis-respect of the very environment being capitalized upon really irks me.


Click on image to see larger version

©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org - More tools of the trade left in Tomales Bay, as if it were the leaseholders' garage and this were a hobby.

©Richard James – coastodian.org – More tools of the trade left in Tomales Bay, as if it were the leaseholders’ garage and this were a hobby.


Click on image to see larger version

©Richard James - coastodian.org - Ah what the heck, let's just leave these here, nobody will notice.

©Richard James – coastodian.org – Ah what the heck, let’s just leave these here, nobody will notice.


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org - All of these PVC pipes you see are different pieces left to the sun and tides.

©Richard James – coastodian.org – All of these PVC pipes you see are different pieces left to the sun and tides.


Click on image to see larger version

©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org - Yet another tool left in the Tomales Bay.

©Richard James – coastodian.org – Yet another tool left in the Tomales Bay.


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


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©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


©Richard James - coastodian.org

©Richard James – coastodian.org


Oyster farming is very, very hard work, no doubt about that. But if it cannot be done without leaving the sort of mess you see in the above images, perhaps the leases need to be reduced in size so that the existing crews CAN keep everyone’s environment looking much better. In addition, workers need to NOT leave their tools, gloves, bottled water etc. out on “their worksite”, AKA Tomales Bay, home to a multitude of birds, fish and insects.


Next installment may be found here.

Previous related post may be found here.

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

Sustainable Oyster Farming, West Marin Style – part 4 DBOC – Stewardship examined

Click on the words above “Sustainable Oyster Farming, West Marin Style…” to see this entire post

Sunday the 20th found me out on Drakes Estero on a superb day to enjoy this wilderness jewel. A light south headwind on my paddle out made for a light tailwind, coupled with a strong flood tide to push me back after a day diving to see what lay beneath the surface.

Having replaced my polarized glasses I’d broken two years ago, this was my first time boating on The Estero with the ability to easily see underwater. An amazing world of kelp, eal-grass, nudibranchs, bat rays, leopard sharks, fish and crabs all went about their business of eating, trying not to be eaten and reproducing.

Sadly, after years of use by a “Sustainable, respectful of the land oyster farm”, the Estero floor is now littered with abandoned plastic, oyster shells and lumber treated with toxic chemicals.

Thankfully, Drakes Bay Oyster Company has a “deep respect for the land and waters of the Estero ecostystem”.

Just imagine what the place would look like if some company without such strong morals had been running the show…..

Below is a 7 minute view of Drakes Estero, below the surface. It is High Definition, so click the small rectangle in the lower right corner of the video window to fill your screen, especially nice when the large shark comes into view.

While not the best footage (drifting with the tide holding a camera on a pole), it does give an accurate representation of what, sadly, is found under many of the oyster racks encroaching on The Estero.

As my camera skills develop, I plan to venture out to the northern part of Tomales Bay and share equally disturbing views of the side-effects from years of resource extraction in those waters.


See the next post in this series here

Sustainable Oyster Farming, West Marin Style – part 3 DBOC, Stewards of the land

Click on the words above “Sustainable Oyster Farming…” to see this entire post.

NOTE: Those of you that come back to this page again and again, please consider adding a thoughtful comment. This page is meant to stimulate public discourse on the situation at hand.

July 1st was the first day to go boating on Drakes Estero since the closure to protect Harbor Seals began on March 1st. I had not been out there since February and really wanted to go visit this special place again. On July 6th I took my boat and cameras out to visit the same oyster racks I described in an earlier post here.

I wanted to see if any clean-up had been done since my last visit.

The location of the two oyster racks I visited are just outside the mouth of Home Bay and can be seen in the image below.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Home Bay Oyster Racks Map

The first rack I dove near was nearly half occupied with “french tubes”, long white tubes upon which oysters grow directly. The other half of the rack was partially occupied with the older style “black spacer tubes” [see a pile of over 5000 of these tubes I picked up on Point Reyes Beaches here], and partially devoid of tubes of any kind.

What I saw on the bottom under the french tube area shocked me, it was worse than I imagined. I pulled from the bottom, 136 french tubes, all of which were devoid of oysters, but a fraction of what is down there.

Below are still images and a video of what I saw.

Those tasked with cleaning up the mess of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company have their work cut out for them. Each tube I dug out of the mud clouded the water instantly, reducing visibility to nearly zero. In a little over 3 hours, I collected the 136 tubes from under half of one rack, and I estimate 60-70 tubes from under only 20 lineal feet of the adjacent rack. Even with dive gloves on, my fingers bled again and again from the numerous cuts caused by razor sharp oyster shells.

I was unable to load the other 60-70 tubes on my boat, as they were encrusted with mostly dead oysters. I stacked those on top of the racks above where I found them in the mud.

60-70 “french tubes” left on floor of Drakes Estero by Drakes Bay Oyster Company

60-70 “french tubes” left on floor of Drakes Estero by Drakes Bay Oyster Company


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Drakes Bay Oyster Company left these in Drakes Estero

Drakes Bay Oyster Company left these in Drakes Estero


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Oyster farming trash left on the floor of Drakes Estero by Drakes bay Oyster Company

Oyster farming trash left on the floor of Drakes Estero by Drakes bay Oyster Company


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Oyster farming trash left on the floor of Drakes Estero by Drakes bay Oyster Company

Oyster farming trash left on the floor of Drakes Estero by Drakes bay Oyster Company


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Didemnum vexillum. invasive tunicate growing on a suspended oyster growing device called a french tube.

Didemnum vexillum. invasive tunicate growing on a suspended oyster growing device called a french tube.


click on image to see larger version

Didemnum vexillum. invasive tunicate growing on a suspended oyster growing device called a french tube.

Didemnum vexillum. invasive tunicate growing on a suspended oyster growing device called a french tube.


See the next post in this series here

Cert. denied – Looking forward to an Estero without miles of racks, plastic bags

Click on the words above “Cert. denied” to see this entire post.

The supreme court issued their orders this morning.

On the list of cases denied a hearing, Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

Now to get DBOC to clean up the mess they bought/created along with the lease.

Let’s hope they break with what seems to be the tradition of the oyster industry and actually do the right thing and clean up the mess they made while making a profit from the public waters of the State of California.

Read about other local oyster growers and the mess they either created, bought, continue to create or are beginning to clean up, here, here, here and here.

scotus.1.Order List

scotus.2.order list

scotus.3.order list


Save our Tomales Bay – part 15 Tomales Bay Oyster Company stuck in the mud, along with all their trash

Click the words “Save our Tomales Bay…” above to see this post in its entirety.

Nearly two months ago I wrote about a chance meeting with the owner of Tomales Bay Oyster Company on the beach near his operation on the shore of Tomales Bay. This was not the first time I had spoken with Tod about the mess his company makes in Tomales Bay.

You can read that post here.

I thought he had finally come to see the error in his methods and was going to instruct his employees to quit throwing trash into Tomales Bay, make simple changes to some of his processes and reduce the amount of plastic his business knowingly dumped into the bay.

How wrong I was.

Since January I have walked a quarter mile section of coastline adjacent to his business each week and picked up anything that did not belong. Plastic bags, hundreds of plastic zip-ties, ropes, glass, rubber gloves etc. The vast majority from the oyster company, but not all of it.

For months, I had been gathering a large bag of this trash each week and putting the date on it. A few times I packed out numerous large grow out bags as well, full of dead oysters.

Then, after speaking with Tod, three weeks in a row I found barely more than a handful. Woo hoo I thought. They are going to stop polluting so much, maybe even pick up their own trash.

Alas, my excitement was short-lived. The trash was back, same volume as before.

WTF I thought to myself. Their boss and I talked. The workers see me week after week, knowing I am telling the world of their selfish littering, and still they dump their mess in Tomales Bay.

Well, enough is enough. In the coming week, I’ll show you what I have gathered from the shore where they farm oysters at Tomales Bay Oyster Company. You decide if this is the type of operation that should be expanded up and down the coast of California. The California Department of Fish & WIldlife (DFW) is pushing the “California Shellfish Initiative”. If this is what they are selling, I want no part of it. And neither should anyone else. (Except perhaps a company more interested in short-term profits over a clean environment for those that come after us)

For now, you’ll have to enjoy what appears to me to be a failed experiment left to rot in Tomales Bay.

The images that follow show what I have seen laying in the mud for years – out of sight to all but a fool such as myself, barely 500 meters from the tables filled to capacity each weekend with oyster eaters, ignorant what is being done to the planet to put shellfish on their table and money in the pockets of a few hard-working, yet uncaring, selfish shellfish individuals.

Feast your eyes on the carnage wrought by Tomales Bay Oyster Company, then call them and ask that they stop trashing Tomales Bay. (415) 663-1243.

All of the following images were made on 19 April, 2014 between 8:24 am and 9:12 am.

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned PVC pipes  - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned PVC pipes – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned PVC pipes  - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned PVC pipes – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned rope - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned rope – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster rack mount covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster rack mount covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned oyster bags - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster bags – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster racks - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster racks – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned oyster racks - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster racks – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned PVC pipes  - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned PVC pipes – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned PVC pipes and in use grow out bags - Tomales Bay Oyster Company Looks like a hurricane hit a hardware store. If a hardware store looked like this, it would either get cleaned up, or go out of business. Hardware stores are easy to build. There is only one Tomales Bay. So.....clean it up, or go out of business!

abandoned PVC pipes and in use grow out bags – Tomales Bay Oyster Company
Looks like a hurricane hit a hardware store. If a hardware store looked like this, it would either get cleaned up, or go out of business.
Hardware stores are easy to build. There is only one Tomales Bay.
So…..clean it up, or go out of business!

abandoned PVC pipes and in use grow out bags - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned PVC pipes and in use grow out bags – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned PVC pipes - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned PVC pipes – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned zip-ties - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned zip-ties – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned oyster rack gear - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster rack gear – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster rack mount covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster rack mount covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned oyster rack mount covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster rack mount covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags, rope and PVC pipes - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags, rope and PVC pipes – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned plastic trays - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned plastic trays - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned plastic trays - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned plastic trays – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster rack - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned oyster rack – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Click any image to see a huge version

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

abandoned grow out bags covered with marine growth – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

retail oyster bag stuck in the mud - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

retail oyster bag stuck in the mud – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

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plastic rope by the miles lost each year in the mud - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

plastic rope by the miles lost each year in the mud – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

retail oyster bag stuck in the mud - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

retail oyster bag stuck in the mud – Tomales Bay Oyster Company

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retail oyster bag stuck in the mud - Tomales Bay Oyster Company

retail oyster bag stuck in the mud – Tomales Bay 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.

Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style – part 2

Click on the words above “Sustainable oyster farming, West Marin style…” to see this post as it was meant to be seen.

March of 2013, I published the image showing over 5000 black plastic oyster spacer tubes I had picked up. The image shows them in a large pile of black plastic on a tarp in front of the turn-off to the DBOC farm. See it here.

Besides meeting Kevin’s parents the day I made that image (that is a post all in itself), a few months later, Kevin found my blog, had a look around, then sent me a note inviting me over to talk about oyster farming trash. I went out to meet him the same day I photographed this Osprey over Drakes Estero, see it here.

The upshot of what he told me for nearly two hours was, “Richard, all this trash you and others are finding is from Charlie Johnson, not DBOC.”

He also showed me the new way they are growing oysters using long white plastic tubes impregnated with bits of oyster shell, they are called French Tubes.

When I saw them, I commented that I thought I’d only ever picked up one in all my days on the local beaches.

He seemed to think they were the silver bullet to all this lost plastic getting into the ocean.

I thanked him for his time and we parted ways, I did not give French Tubes much more thought. That is until I went diving in Drakes Estero. I wanted to see what was going on under the surface with my own eyes.

Kevin is right, I won’t be picking up those long white tubes from all over the beaches of Point Reyes. The reason being, French Tubes sink!

Have a look for yourself. See the invasive tunicate growing all over them.

This is surely one way to keep your litter out of the public eye.


While hiking back from the mouth of the Estero today with a load of trash (over 60 black tubes) along with all the usual human-waste, I came upon 3 people that wanted to know what all the trash was on my back. After explaining my affliction (the inability to walk past garbage on the beach), I briefly explained the oyster situation to them. The mess in the Estero, the mess I keep finding in Tomales Bay etc.

The young woman looked at me and asked “Is it possible to grow oysters and not make a mess of the environment?”

That is a very good question I told her.

I’ve seen little evidence of it so far. The folks at Hog Island do seem to be improving their practice, looking for ways to lose less gear. TBOC has a long way to go to clean up their practice, I see small efforts and much larger issues to be tackled. The others I cannot speak of accurately.

If one reads the position paper put forth by the California Shellfish Initiative, dated 29 Aug. 2013 It states in part (emphasis mine) …

The California Shellfish Initiative (“Initiative”) is a collaborative effort of growers, regulators, NGO’sand scientists to restore and expand California’s shellfish resources, including oysters, mussels,clams, abalone and scallops.

The Initiative seeks to harness the creative talents of shellfish growers, local, state, and federal resource managers and environmental leaders. The Initiative’s goals are to protect and enhance our marine habitats, foster environmental quality, increase jobs, encourage inter-agency coordination and communication, and strengthen coastal economies. A successful Initiative will engage coastal stakeholders in a comprehensive process to grow California’s $25M sustainable shellfish (bivalve) harvest, restore natural shellfish reefs, protect clean water and enhance healthy watersheds.

I’d be happier if what this says were happening…


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero

Oyster farm debris littering the bottom of Drakes Estero


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

tunicates love oyster racks, oyster bags, oyster tubes. Non-native tunicates!

tunicates love oyster racks, oyster bags, oyster tubes. Non-native tunicates!


As always, click on a picture to see it larger

A local jelly floating by

A local jelly floating by



Snorkling near DBOC oyster racks in Drakes Estero



Snorkling near DBOC oyster racks in Drakes Estero


See the next post in this series here

Save our Tomales Bay – part 12 (Millerton style)

Click on the words above “Save our Tomales Bay…” to see this post as it was meant to be seen.

This past weekend we experienced King Tides, exceptionally high (and low) tides that happen this time of year.

To see some even higher tides, go here.

The water was so high I was able to launch my boat from the bridge at Chicken Ranch.

My goal was to head south into some formerly diked off areas to the east that only flood deep enough to get into during high tides. With the added benefit of the high water floating all the human-made plastic for easy finding and retrieval.

Down near Bivalve I recovered a second swim area buoy that had gotten loose and drifted far from its’ usual spot. I found the first one last year, a few hundred meters south of this one.

Paddling back I ran into Dan from Sebastopol, we’d met a few weeks prior a bit north of here. We visited briefly as we recounted how we each enjoyed the high tides. I had to split off to pick up some trash I had cached. Dan was with a large group of paddlers from Petaluma. My plan was to pick up my cache, then stop by Millerton (where they had put in) and visit on my way back as they pulled their boats to the car. As we parted, Dan shouted that he found another duck decoy just then. He found one as well on our first meeting. I too have a pair of found plastic ducks, one pintail and one mallard.

Yet, there was too much trash to pick up and I missed him by moments.

I still stopped at Millerton, a place I had not visited on the water in all my travels in Tomales Bay.

As I approached the shore I began counting tires, one, two three. Large ones. Tractor tires. All within 200 feet of the where the trail hits the water. I was nonplused. All these years I had been out to remote areas of Point Reyes Seashore gathering trash likely never to be seen except by divers or other intrepid adventurers, and here these tires lay in the mud. On the shore for what appears to be decades by the looks of them, not 200 feet from the cars bringing all the dog owners to this busy beach.

I may have missed Dan, I was not going to miss the opportunity to clear the Bay of these huge tires.

Tires all over the shore, and this in the parking lot, two days running. Is this status quo for Millerton?

Tires all over the shore, and this in the parking lot, two days running.
Is this status quo for Millerton?

I had to dig them out of the mud, stand them up, scoop 20-30 pounds of mud out of them and roll them to the hill that leads to the parking lot. As I rolled the first one along the bumpy shore, A man out with his family picnicking got up and walked over to me,

“Do you need some help?” he asked.

“That would be great” was my reply.

“But you are going to get very muddy.” I offered.

“No problem.” was Armando’s response.

Together we rolled it, wobbly, up the hill. He took it the rest of the way to the parking lot. I was off to get another.

“If you get more, my sons and I can help.”

Armando from Berkeley told me he loves to come to this beach with his family. When he saw me struggling with the huge tire, he became inspired.

He and I rolled a second tire, as big as the first up to the lot. I was not sure I was up to a third so I suggested he enjoy the new year day with his family and thanked him for his help.

As I neared my boat, I was drawn to a third tire, laying in the shallow water, filled with mud. This one required a lever and fulcrum to pull it out of the mud. Fiddling with sticks and logs to make my mechanical advantage, Kevin “KC” form Inverness Park saw me and he too asked if he could help. He was dressed even nicer than Armando was. I explained the mud and he would not be deterred. He stripped off his jacket and came right over to help. Together we got another large tire up the hill and out of the Bay.

His wife snapped these photos of us.

KC and I roll a tractor tire out of Tomales Bay to the parking lot for removal.

KC and I roll a tractor tire out of Tomales Bay to the parking lot for removal.


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Afterwards he then offered me a cold beer (which I gladly accepted) and he opened it for me, as my hands were still coated with thick black mud, bleeding profusely from where the barnacles had sliced them.

Thank you KC.

I plucked a fourth tire, this one a tiny 18-wheeler that was on dry ground and rolled it up the hill solo.

This makes fifteen tires pulled from the bay so far.

There are still at least 2-3 more here, as well as a large rear axle from some ancient vehicle of some sort laying in the tiny creek nearby.

I placed the swim buoy in with them. Later I called the state dispatcher for parks and the folks from Samuel Taylor had them taken care of by that evening.

This six cylinder GM engine in the water earlier sure looked out of place. Clearly left by some lazy SOB that had backed his truck up to the cliff next to route 1 and pushed it over, saving a trip over the hill to the recycler. His problem was now everyone’s problem. This is the third block I have found in Tomales Bay. The other two are likely remnants of boat wrecks, both on the west shore.

Just what every body of water needs - NOT.

Just what every body of water needs – NOT.


Oyster grow-out bag filled with bottles and cans. My first toaster and fourth TV.

Oyster grow-out bag filled with bottles and cans. My first toaster and fourth TV.


Four tires, a buoy and two oyster grow-out bags.

Four tires, a buoy and two oyster grow-out bags.

A few days later I paid a visit to Hog Island Oysters, having been invited to come talk about my clean-up efforts and the goals of Hog Island in terms of reducing the amount of plastic the oyster farms inject into the environment.

John Finger explained that in the past, a yearly cleanup had taken place to pick up oyster gear from around the bay.

Hog Island is committed to running a clean operation, reducing plastic loss and recovering as much as possible that is lost.

After seeing what I was digging out of the wrack on a regular basis, he decided that once a year was not enough. So he plans to work with the other growers to make a concerted effort four times per year. If I can, I’ll go out before the planned cleanup to see what is there to get, as well as to visit after the cleanup to see if the participants are actually recovering their gear.

I am going to reduce the number of “Save our Tomales Bay” reports for a while. A wait and see approach, if you will.

Let us hope that all the Tomales Bay Oyster growers step up and help manage the mess that their operations are creating, hopefully figuring out how to prevent the mess in the first place.

I’ll still be out there picking up stuff and photographing it.

In the meantime, enjoy this green heron I drifted by on christmas day.

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Now this is what I expect to see in a Bay as gorgeous as Tomales!

Coming soon, we’ll pay a visit to Drakes Estero to see what a “sustainable oyster operation” looks like under the surface.

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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.