State bodies will examine debris in Tomales Bay

04/16/2015

Staff with the Fish and Game Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife will investigate the extent of loose oyster growing gear in Tomales Bay and report their findings to the commission in June, said Sonke Mastrup, the commission’s executive director, at a meeting last week that included some stern words of warning for oyster growers. More than one commissioner voiced deep concerns about the problem, which Inverness resident Richard James illustrated in a two-minute PowerPoint presentation during the public comment period. “This situation has really got my attention,” said Richard Rogers, a commissioner from Santa Barbara. “And for those of you who don’t know, this is my eleventh year on this commission. When something really gets my attention, the people who are involved in it best be very cautious with respect to how they are conducting their operations and what they are doing in accordance with the law. I intend to fully press these leases to the letter of the law.” The issue nabbed the spotlight largely because of Mr. James, who blogs about debris he finds in West Marin waterways on his website, The Coastodian. His photographs of mesh bags, zip ties and other gear have spurred multiple agencies to action; in February, 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 he blogged about it. (Owner Tod Friend said he erected the fence to prevent mud from the creek from covering his bivalves during storms. He also said he and his crew have been making a bigger effort to curb debris.) In his comments, Mr. James urged the commission and its staff to provide “regular and meaningful oversight.” Amy Trainer, the executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, said during the public comment period that oyster growers were doing a lot of the right things, but that littering needed to be addressed. “We are here not in a manner of controversy or in an adversarial position,” she said. “We love this place. Oyster growing is very popular; it brings a lot to the community. But we need to have a level of stewardship that is worthy of the place that Tomales Bay is.” Mr. Mastrup noted that littering in the bay is illegal, but that gear inevitably becomes loose during storms, necessitating a balance between best practices and “logistical realities.” The commission may modify regulations or the terms of the water bottom leases, or establish clearer best practices to “make it more clear what we’re expecting of the growers in terms of cleanup.”