Fewer than 60 days remain before Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s 40-year reservation of use and occupancy expires, and owner Kevin Lunny is feeling glum. His workers are wondering whether they’ll be jobless and homeless by winter, and the possibility of having to kill the millions of juvenile oysters growingd in Drakes Estero weighs heavily on their minds. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to decide before the end of November whether to extend a 10-year permit to the company, but he is not giving any clues.
A massive voluntary recall and closure last month left a gaping hole in the oyster company’s revenue and wreaked havoc on its reputation. According to Mr. Lunny, wilderness advocates hounded the health department when two people became ill after eating oysters—it isn’t known whose—at the same restaurant, and an East Bay weekly slammed the company. Part of the fallout was the loss of a major San Francisco customer. Mr. Lunny claims that if the bad oysters had been his, 200 people would have become ill, given his level of production.
Despite the grim limbo he’s in, Mr. Lunny maintains hope. “There’s something that has become clear to me since the day we set foot on this property,” he said. “This business happens to be operated by my family, but it’s a public resource. This isn’t about us and our success or failure. This earth lasts a very long time, and we are fortunate enough to be the current stewards of this incredible resource. This should be a public process and decision.”