Shellfish growers may write best practices


Under a tentative state plan, oyster farms would develop individual best management practices based on state guidelines meant to curb the environmental impacts of California’s 16 shellfish leases. 

At a public meeting on Monday at the Marconi Conference Center, representatives of the California Fish and Game Commission and California Department of Fish and Wildlife presented a short report on best management practices and listened to public comments. 

Buck Hall was filled to the gills with about 75 people, including oyster company representatives, environmentalists, local residents and members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state’s Department of Public Health and the California Aquaculture Association. 

The California aquaculture industry is worth roughly $170 million, according to Fish and Wildlife’s annual report. Best management practices would limit the amount of single-use items like zip-ties, establish buffers to protect eelgrass and wildlife and require the removal of derelict gear as well as regular training for staff. The plans would have to adhere to standards and be reviewed and approved by a state committee.

Randy Lovell, the state aquaculture coordinator, said having growers themselves write the practices would create a buy-in for the oyster companies. 

“They’re not making up the rules from scratch, but they’re adapting to what we’d like to see from our guidance,” he said. “And they’re in a much better positon to do that. Yes, they are making their own [practices], but within the confines and restraints that we set.”

Susan Ashcraft, senior environmental scientist with the Fish and Game Commission, said interest in best management practices for shellfish growers has increased in recent years.

“There’s heightened awareness in the Marin area because of the Drakes Estero conversion from an active farm into wildlands,” she said. “And the amount of effort to remove structures afterwards was extremely challenging. I think what [growers] are recognizing is there’s a maintenance component and operators want to make sure [their operations] are tended to wisely.” 

Richard James, an Inverness resident who runs a blog called The Coastodian, was instrumental in sparking an investigation into debris left by oyster growers in the bay. Sonke Mastrup, the executive director of the Fish and Game Commission, told the Light in 2015 that Mr. James drew their attention to the issue. 

Mr. James’s photographs of mesh bags, zip ties and other gear spurred agencies to action, and in 2015, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary ordered Tomales Bay Oyster Company to take down a makeshift fence made of mesh bags and P.V.C. pipe near the mouth of Walker Creek soon after Mr. James blogged about it.

At the meeting this week, Mr. James was initially skeptical about the idea of growers writing their own practices. But a response from state representatives that the public would have opportunities to comment on each operation’s proposals led him to support that plan. In his comments, Mr. James said legacy debris remains an issue in the bay but that he’s been finding less trash recently.