Congress asks NAS to review EIS

12/29/2011

A United States Congressional committee has inserted language into an appropriations bill mandating that the National Academy of Sciences vet several claims put forth in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the impacts of oystering in Drakes Estero.

The insertion comes just weeks after the release of a highly anticipated report by the Marine Mammal Commission that found no conclusive evidence as to the impacts of mariculture on adjacent populations of harbor seals, and which suggested that both, if managed properly, can likely co-exist into the future.

It also follows a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Ocean Studies Board that found no proof that mariculture has or will ever displace harbor seals. That report, commissioned by the National Park Service at the behest of Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, was intended to serve as the cornerstone of the pending EIS. But numerous claims established in the draft EIS—that oyster activity would harm wetlands, eelgrass, water quality and various forms of wildlife—clash with the Academy’s 2009 conclusions.

The final version of the EIS is expected sometime prior to November, when the operating permit for Drakes Bay Oyster Company, a 90-year-old oyster farm that operates in Point Reyes National Seashore, will expire. Seashore officials claim that increases in oystering have led to subsequent decreases in seal populations within the estero over the past three decades. Independent stakeholders, particularly Marshall resident and decorated biologist Corey Goodman, have heavily critiqued that assertion.

As stipulated in the appropriations bill, the Academy will “assess the data, analysis, and conclusions in the [draft EIS] in order to ensure there is a solid scientific foundation for the Final Environmental Impact Statement expected in mid-2012.”

Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee continues to complete the preliminary stage of its investigation into the Park Service’s handling of the oyster farm in recent years. A public hearing has yet to be announced.