Friday, December 28, 2012

Drakes Bay National Park Service Shuts Down Drake's Bay Oyster Company at Point Reyes National Seashore

You may have seen a previous post on the National Park Service's efforts to shut down this family oyster farm. This is one of those situations in which you become more annoyed at our government, the more you learn. This appears to be part of an effort to eliminate any type of private activity in the parks. In Washington DC this past week the NPS announced the plan to close a long-standing boat rental facility. (huh?) Here is a link to that story on Jack's Boathouse, which rented boats to JFK during his time in Washington.

Below is an excerpt from a New York Times Story on Drakes Bay.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar  ended a longstanding and bitter dispute that pitted wilderness advocates against supporters of a Northern California oyster farm, announcing that the farm’s lease from Point Reyes National Seashore would end in late November as originally planned. An estuary known as Drakes Estero, where the oyster operation has existed for the last 40 years, will become a federally designated wilderness area.

Drakes Bay, Marin County, California
Map of Marin County  North of San Francisco shows Drakes Bay

In a statement, Mr. Salazar said, “We are taking the final step to recognize this pristine area as wilderness.” The Interior Department has given the farm 90 days to fold. More than a decade after the park was created on Point Reyes in 1962, Congress mandated that part of it be designated as wilderness; the section included Drakes Estero, a 2,500-acre rich marine estuary that is home to scores of seals. The oyster farm is the source of roughly 40 percent of California’s oysters and is part of a local food web that makes the surrounding Marin County area a mecca for locavores. 

In 2004, the oyster farm changed hands, and the lease was taken over by the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which is run by a local rancher, Kevin Lunny. Mr. Lunny was notified that the lease was set to end this year, but indicated about six years ago that he hoped to have it extended. In the ensuing years, park service scientists questioned the farm’s environmental record, and were in turn accused of skewing the science to paint Mr. Lunny as a despoiler of the ecosystem. 

In an interview Thursday, Mr. Lunny said: “We’re trying to get over the devastation, the surprise and the disappointment. To have to deliver this message to our staff is beyond imaginable. To have to tell them they’re going to lose their jobs and their homes.” He said about 15 of the 30 oyster farm workers lived on the site with their families. The department indicated it would do what it could “to help employees who might be affected by this decision” but there is no provision for any payment to Mr. Lunny.

Illustrating the point that there usually are two sides to every issue,  three environmental groups — the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Parks Conservation Association — immediately praised the decision. In an interview, Neal Desai, a West Coast representative of the Washington-based Conservation Association, said, “This is a very big gift the secretary has given the public.” 

While the policy issue was always whether to extend the lease, the parallel debate over park service science moved to the forefront in recent years. The park service had to backpedal on some of its original claims about environmental damage, and its subsequent scientific efforts were scrutinized by outside scientists who identified significant shortcomings. Repeated investigations confirmed many of these shortcomings, but never found that park scientists had engaged in outright scientific misconduct. The memorandum supporting the secretary’s decision played down the scientific issues, saying that the environmental impact statements that reviewed the science and recommended ending the lease had been helpful, but in no way indicating they were central to the decision. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Po Boy Sandwich Rocks!

At our household we buy our oysters by the 100, ordering them by mail from our friends at Island Creek or Cedar Point in Connecticut. Both are linked on this page. But sometimes if you have only 5-6 people, 100 can be too many oysters on the half shell. And while oysters will keep in the styrofoam shipping container for several days if you recycle the ice packs, I often found myself seeking a different way to enjoy those last 20 oysters. On Christmas Day, I rediscovered the New Orleans classic 'Po Boy Sandwich'  and it rocked!

Classic Po Boy Sandwich
The Po Boy is easy to make. just shuck a half dozen oysters, dip them in egg, then breadcrumbs then fry.  Place about 6-8 fried oysters with chopped iceberg lettuce and sliced beefsteak tomato in a soft sub roll.  It melted in my mouth with wonderful mouth feel mixing the warm oysters with the cool lettuce and tomatoes.

Here is a link to an on-line recipe that uses fancier ingredients, but the sandwich still works amazingly well even if you stick to the basics.  I may even get out and buy a tabletop fryolater to make the frying process simple.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Oyster Shell Found Near Charlestown's Bunker Hill Monument!

Earlier we had written about how oyster reef structures were decimated for use to lower the acidity of fields and as roadbed material. See original post here. One of our eagle-eyed directors, Greg Hanson, found old shell near the Charlestown's Bunker Hill Monument as they were replacing sidewalk. This is another illustration of how the local oyster reefs must have been abundant if the town was finding and using shell for sidewalk substrates. This shell was beneath the old sidewalk so it has been there for a long time.

oyster shell  historic use
Oyster shell used as bed for sidewalk. This is old shell that has been there for many years.
oyster shell
Close up of oyster shell used in sidewalk construction in Charlestown, MA
One side effect of removing the shell is that it removed habitat for young spat to attach to. And if you take away habitat you lower reproduction rates. This activity undoubtedly hastened the end of the once significant oyster population in Boston Harbor.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Alabama Oyster Restoration to Protect Island from Erosion

We came across this article on oyster restoration preserving shoreline in Alabama and thought it would make for thought-provoking reading given a recent editorial in the New York Times discussing oysters and their potential to protect Manhattan  from waves.  The original article can be found here.

Coffee Island, which has been slowly disappearing for decades, has quit shrinking. In fact, there are signs that the island, located just south of Bayou La Batre in the Mississippi Sound, is starting to grow larger. Credit goes to a “living shoreline” experiment dreamt up by the Nature Conservancy and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Using a federal stimulus fund grant in 2010, the groups constructed a series of oyster reefs around the southeast side of the island in an effort to combat erosion of the marsh.

As it happened, the Nature Conservancy began dumping 300 dump truck loads worth of oyster shells and 225-pound concrete balls into the water surrounding the island about two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and set off the BP oil spill. The goal was to recreate a natural system of oyster reefs that encircled much of Coffee Island long ago, reefs that served to break up waves as they washed ashore.
Oyster restoration protecting Coffee Island, Alabama
Oyster Restoration Reef Protecting Coffee Island Alabama
A crew deposits rock rubble along an area of Mobile Bay shoreline near Weeks Bay known as the Swift Track. The rock was then covered with a layer of oyster shells. Over time, the reef, which is in water slightly less than three feet deep, will be covered in live oysters. The heavily eroded shoreline behind the oyster reefs should begin to grow, protecting the rare maritime forest. (Courtesy of Eric Lowe/Alabama Nature Partners)
As those historic reefs disappeared, due to harvest by man and other factors, the island was subjected to the full onslaught of waves in the Mississippi Sound, which routinely top two feet. Each year, those waves whittled about 10 feet from the shoreline, all the way around the long and skinny island. Satellite images show the island was several hundred feet wider in 1990 than it is today.

As the oil began to drift across the Gulf in 2010, the newly completed, 1.5-mile-long reef on Coffee Island served as the inspiration for the much larger 100/1000 project, which aims to build 100 miles of oyster reefs and 1000 acres of marsh around Mobile Bay.  The Press-Register returned to Coffee Island on Thursday morning as a thunderstorm gathered over nearby Grand Bay and a rainbow arced across a darkened sky. It was the newspaper’s first visit since the Nature Conservancy kicked off the project shortly before the oil spill started.

The changes were easy to see.

The oyster shell and concrete reef balls had been placed about 90 feet offshore of the island, an attempt to help restore the shoreline to its position in the year 2000. At the time, the water between the reefs and the shore was nearly three feet deep. Today, it is about shin deep, thanks to a huge amount of sediment trapped behind the reefs. New marsh, primarily spartina grass, is beginning to grow in the sediment, evidence that the island is expanding.

The reefs have about 200 new oysters growing on them per square yard, according to surveys by biologists, a number that rivals or even exceeds natural oyster reefs. A control area on Coffee Island, where no reefs were erected, has no oysters growing in front of it and the marsh continues to recede. But on the new reefs, hermit crabs, stone crabs and oyster drills were abundant, crawling and sliding across the new oysters. Many of those oysters are just months old, growing from natural spat that set in April and May.

“It’s working exactly like it is supposed to. The sediment is getting trapped behind the reefs. And you can see the way the reefs are breaking up the wave energy. Look how much calmer it is behind the reefs, how the waves are getting knocked down,” said Jeff DeQuattro, who supervised the Coffee Island project for the Nature Conservancy. 
Rising up to where they just break the water’s surface at high tide, the reefs have effectively stopped the erosion on Coffee Island, DeQuattro said.“You can stand on the bottom behind the reefs now. It’s firmed up nicely,” he said, drawing a comparison between the soft mud that surrounded the island before the reefs were re-established.

DeQuattro said the project has been much more successful than he expected it to be. That suggests the rest of the 100 miles to be built for the 100/1000 project will have a big impact on Mobile Bay, he said.
“We’re building a reef and it takes time. With oysters, you don’t just dump some shell and, there you go, you have a reef. Creatures have to inhabit the nooks and crannies, crabs and fish. And they’re here. And oysters are growing,” DeQuattro said. “We’ve got all these little clumps of oysters here now. A lot of them are more than year old. We’ve got birds feeding on top of the reefs all the time, or even just hanging out on them. There is so much more life here now.”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Oyster Talk at Northeastern January 15th

In 2013, the Northeastern University Marine Science Center (MSC) is continuing its series of monthly marine science lectures through March. On January 15 at 7:00 p.m., Dr. Jonathan Grabowski, Associate Professor at Northeastern, will present the Eastern Oyster: An Iconic Fishery and Valuable Habitat. The lecture is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served at 6:30 p.m.  

Here is a bit about Dr. Grabowski.


  • Associate Professor, Northeastern University (2011 – present)
  • Research Scientist, Gulf of Maine Research Institute (2004-2011)
  • Post-Doctorate, Dr. Phil Yund, Darling Marine Center, University of Maine at Orono (2002-2004)

Other Professional Activities

  • Member, The Nature Conservancy’s National Oyster Goals Science Advisory Team (2010-present)
  • Member, New England Fisheries Management Council – Ecosystem Management and Habitat Plan & Development Team (2007-present)
  • Member, Gulf of Maine Mapping Initiative (GOMMI) Advisory Board (2007-present)
  • Member, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) Working Group, “When, and how much, does fear matter”? Quantitatively assessing the impact of predator intimidation of prey on community dynamics” (2005-2007)
  • Member, Working Group, “Defining metrics of successful oyster reef restoration” (2004-2005)
  • Member, Ecological Society of America, American Fisheries Society, National Shellfish Association, American Academy of Underwater Sciences

Research Interests

My research interests span issues in ecology, fisheries and conservation biology, and ecological economics. I have used a variety of estuarine (oyster reef, seagrass, salt marsh, mud bottom) and marine (kelp bed, cobble-ledge) systems to examine how resource availability, habitat heterogeneity and predation risk affect population dynamics, community structure, and ecosystem functioning. Much of this work focuses on economically important species such as lobsters, cod, herring, monkfish, and oyster reef and seagrass communities, and consequently is relevant for fisheries and ecosystem management. My lab also focuses on how habitat degradation and restoration influence benthic community structure, population structure, and the transfer of energy to higher trophic levels. In addition, I am interested in how management initiatives such as closed areas, fishing gear modifications, and fishing effort reductions impact local habitat recovery, fisheries productivity, and the balance of resident and migratory life-history strategies for species such as cod. Finally, we are also examining a number of other important topics aimed at enhancing our ability to restore and conserve aquatic species and ecosystems: fish migratory behavior, population structure, and age validation; the economic value of ecosystem services associated with coastal habitats; seafloor habitat mapping and its role in ecosystem management; and the influence of climate change and biogeography on species range shifts, ecological interactions, and ecosystem functions.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mass Oyster Project Board Bolstered Through Addition of Curt Felix

At December meeting of the Board, Curt Felix was voted in as a new member. Curt is a member of the Comprehensive Wastewater Treatment Commission of Wellfleet and active in oyster restoration in that municipality. He has been providing valuable support towards MOPs oyster restoration efforts and our lobbying work with the Massachusetts government. He is a graduate of the University of Vermont and active in the field of Green Power..

oyster shell recycling Wellfleet
Curt with Wellfleet oyster shell recycling team.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Oyster Restoration Supporter Spotted in Mass Oyster Hat in New York's Times Square

oyster restoration supporter Enrique Bascunana
Atlanta resident Enrique Bascunana was photoed by Paparazzi in Times Square
We are coming to the end of this style of hat as we switch to our new logo and branding. If you go for the classic look, you can order at the MOP Store. Profits from the sale of these goods goes to support oyster restoration. Soon we will have hats with our new logo below. We also will have stickers and temporary tattoos for our next event.

oyster logo
New Oyster Project Logo

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Help Save a California Oyster Farm

The oyster industry is in an uproar as the National Park Service (NPS) has had an agenda of shutting down a California oyster farm that provides 40% of California’s oyster harvest. The NPS has searched out various lame reasons (noise? interfering with seals, etc.)  In a process that has been showed to be flagrantly biased and flawed. As you learn more- consider signing on to the petition. To do so click here sign the petition

Below is a section of Robert Rheault’s post to the shelfish community..

The Lonny’s permit is set to expire at the end of the month. The National Park Service seems intent on eliminating compatible and sustainable shellfish production in Drakes Estero.  Lawyers did a Freedom of Information Act request on the NPS and the group that was supposedly chosen to be an "independent" reviewer of the NPS allegations of seal disturbances.  It turns out that dozens of e-mails reveal that the review was hardly independent, but rather was a complete whitewash. The NPS fabricated the data and then when congress directed them to conduct a review, they hired a hack to whitewash the results. The e-mail trail makes fascinating reading and paints a damning picture of deceit and arrogance.

A 44 page Data Quality Act petition has been filed with the Inspector General and we expect the whole house of cards to come tumbling down.  Without seal impacts the farm impacts are negligible. The noise impacts were disproven (remember the Jet Ski sound data debacle?).  The rest of the impacts were classified in the NPS Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as "minor."  But we have to raise a big stink or the whole tawdry affair might just get swept under the rug to protect some highly placed bureaucrats.  The ECSGA board will discuss what action we expect to take in our next meeting.

Why should we care? - Because the allegations of environmental harm that the NPS has suggested occur in their Draft EIS will be used as a weapon in future lease applications across the country. Even though the impacts described in the DEIS were disputed and disproven by dozens of qualified scientists that submitted hundreds of pages of factual evidence to dispute the faulty NPS claims. Even though cameras set up to take pictures of the farm every minute for several years failed to detect a seal interaction.
Don't let the NPS throw our industry under the bus with false allegations of environmental damage!

Here is a plea for help from the family.

Dear Drakes Bay Oyster Farm Supporters!

It is decision time and we need your help!  Before the end of this month, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, will decide on the fate of the historic oyster farm located within the working landscapes of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

During this crucial period of time, two different filmmakers saw the need to tell a story about the controversy between Drakes Bay Oyster Company and the National Park Service. Please take a moment to view both of these thoughtful videos. You will not be disappointed.  Many of you will be surprised by the facts.

Video produced by Friends of Drakes Bay Oyster [18 min]:

Video produced by [3 min]:

You can make a difference. Please sign the petition to save this vital food and education resource!

To learn more and for up-to-the-minute info, please visit

Thank you for your support and please share this with friends!
The Drakes Bay Oyster Farm Family

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Trip to State Shellfish Purification Plant Filled With Information

On Saturday a group from Mass Oyster enjoyed a fascinating tour of the Newburyport Shellfish Purification Plant that is located on the very Northern Tip of Plum Island. It is one of only a few publicly run shellfish purification plants in the country. Diane Regan and Jeff Kennedy were veritable founts of information providing a soup-to-nuts discussion of clams in Massachusetts. We thank them for giving of their time so generously on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
Oyster Restoration Group tour of shellfish purification plant
DMF Professionals Jeff Kennedy and Diane Regan at the plant

In the 1920’s there were significant problems with food safety in the U.S.. As the country became more crowded and industrialized waste treatment was still rudimentary and coastal water quality began to fall.  Steamer clams were being harvested from less pristine waters and shipped around the country. As they were traveling longer before consumption there was more time for them to go bad and for people to get sick. 

Recognizing that there was a problem Newburyport established a shellfish purification plant. The plant would later be taken over by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 

Later the Federal Government would begin regulation of shellfish through the FDA, the same organization that oversees milk quality.  The FDA publishes an extensive manual that contains inches of regulations on the harvest and handling of shellfish. Interestingly, the US regulations are much tighter than the European ones and the import of European Shellfish is basically taboo due to the health concerns.

The purification plant allows the harvest of clams from waters of marginal water quality, which otherwise would not be fit for consumption. Under a tightly regulated process, the clams are harvested from coastal areas, including Boston Harbor; they are locked in trucks that follow specified routes to the purification plant. The collection-trucking process is thoroughly documented to prevent diversion. 

Some of the tracking paperwork.

Apparently in the 1970’s diversion was going on, and clammers were selling a portion of the clams from marginal waters directly to bars and restaurants. A TV news reporter highlighted this in “Clam Scam” that created the impetus for establishing the current system.  
Clams undergoing the purification process.
In the plant, they take filtered salt water from two springs and soak the clams for a period of several days in several large tanks. While the clams are in the tanks the water is run through filtration lights to eliminate bacteria that are released from the clams.

The final rinse station.

Following treatment, the clams are rinsed off in a high power rinsing station. 

Diane Regan show a plate ready for counting.
After treatment a random sampling of the clams are taken, ground up and then a portion of the liquid is alloquotted onto agar plates. The bacterial count is taken using E.coli. E.coli is a surrogate for viruses that would make the clam eater sick. Unfortunately it is expensive and difficult to test for those viruses directly. So they test for E.coli. E coli is also the measure used for looking at water quality and where shellfish may be harvested.Assuming they pass all the tests, which they usually do, they are shipped out to market. 

Oyster restoration fan Greg Hanson in the lab
Greg Hanson counts the colonies of E.Coli.

The tour was scheduled for an hour, but took two as there were lots of questions and sidebars taking us off-topic into other areas of coastal ecology. 

One interesting observation from an oyster restoration perspective was that the regulation of shellfish in the Commonwealth has grown out of a food safety program. With this singular historic perspective, there has been little discussion of oysters as habitat for 100 other species. As a result MOP has been in the challenging position of asking our officials to look at the situation from a different perspective when we discuss oyster restoration. Increasingly, we seem to be finding more common ground, particularly when we think of oyster propagation zones.