Oyster Farmer: ‘We Are Terrified’ Of The Government

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Two customers enjoy oysters outside the oyster shack at Drakes Bay Oyster Company in Inverness, California July 31, 2014. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Two cus­tomers enjoy oys­ters out­side the oys­ter shack at Drakes Bay Oys­ter Com­pa­ny in Inver­ness, Cal­i­for­nia July 31, 2014. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Drakes Bay Oys­ter Com­pa­ny oper­at­ed in Point Reyes for decades until Nation­al Park Ser­vice offi­cials used fal­si­fied data to force Kevin Lunny’s fam­i­ly-run oys­ter farm to shut down. The expe­ri­ence has left its mark on Lun­ny: “We are ter­ri­fied,” he told law­mak­ers dur­ing a hear­ing Thurs­day.

Let me be clear, we did not fail as a busi­ness,” Lun­ny said in his pre­pared tes­ti­mo­ny. “This was not bad luck. Rather, the Park Ser­vice engaged in a tax­pay­er-fund­ed enter­prise of cor­rup­tion to run our small busi­ness out of Point Reyes.”

Lun­ny made this state­ment in response to a ques­tion by Repub­li­can Rep. Raul Labrador ask­ing whether or not Lun­ny felt like there could be con­se­quences from his tes­ti­mo­ny against the Nation­al Parks Ser­vice.

Even Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Jared Huff­man admit­ted that in the rush to get rid of indus­try from Point Reyes, gov­ern­ment offi­cials and envi­ron­men­tal­ists “over­stat­ed” evi­dence that Lunny’s farm was harm­ing the envi­ron­ment.

No one has apol­o­gized,” Lun­ny said.

Drakes Bay Oys­ter Com­pa­ny is locat­ed in North­ern California’s Point Reyes Nation­al Seashore, where it has been for decades. Point Reyes isn’t your typ­i­cal nation­al park because it was cre­at­ed to pre­serve the his­toric coast­line where peo­ple have been set­tled since the Gold Rush. It was nev­er intend­ed to be a major tourist attrac­tion like Yel­low­stone.

For decades the Park Ser­vice had a good rela­tion­ship with the oys­ter com­pa­ny, but that all changed in the mid-2000s. All of the sud­den, NPS offi­cials start­ed blam­ing the com­pa­ny for an 80 per­cent decline in the local har­bor seal pop­u­la­tion. Offi­cials also blamed Lunny’s farm for upset­ting the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance of Drakes Estero.

But all of these accu­sa­tions against Drakes Bay Oys­ter Com­pa­ny turned out to be com­plete­ly false. The Nation­al Parks Ser­vice lacked any sci­en­tif­ic data to back up its claims that the com­pa­ny was killing seals and hurt­ing the local envi­ron­ment. In fact, stud­ies done by the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey and the Cal­i­for­nia State Health Depart­ment showed the Parks Ser­vice was com­plete­ly wrong.

NPS, how­ev­er, didn’t stop there and kept mak­ing false claims against the oys­ter com­pa­ny.

The Park Ser­vice mis­rep­re­sent­ed that study,” Lun­ny said. “They instead attempt­ed to demon­strate harm by sub­sti­tut­ing data from a six­ty-year-old study con­duct­ed at the Sea of Japan and attribut­ing it to our farm.”

For exam­ple, in assess­ing the noise impact of our small out­board motor boats, the Park Ser­vice, rather than mea­sur­ing our boats on our sound­scape [as required], instead used the mea­sure­ments from a sev­en­ty-horse­pow­er, 700cc Kawasa­ki jet ski in New Jer­sey,” Lun­ny added.

Lun­ny appealed to high­er ups at the Nation­al Park Ser­vice for help in the mat­ter and to cor­rect the record on false state­ments made by the agency, but he got no help from the gov­ern­ment.

The local Park Ser­vice staff were not will­ing to cor­rect the false claims, so we went to the Region­al Direc­tor,” Lun­ny said. “No help there. Then we went to the Park Ser­vice Direc­tor, and final­ly the Sec­re­tary of Inte­ri­or. No one, at any lev­el, was will­ing to admit that false sci­ence was being used against us, or to at least cor­rect the record and stop the false accu­sa­tions.”

The Inte­ri­or Department’s own inspec­tor gen­er­al even found mis­con­duct by agency offi­cials and that they mis­rep­re­sent­ed facts. But even so, the inspec­tor gen­er­al was pow­er­less to stop Parks Ser­vice offi­cials from attack­ing Lunny’s busi­ness.

Even­tu­al­ly, Drakes Bay Oys­ter Farm closed its doors because of the lit­i­ga­tion and reg­u­la­to­ry actions tak­en by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

What the Park Ser­vice did to our fam­i­ly was uncon­scionable,” Lun­ny said. “This pol­lut­ed lega­cy of false sci­ence has taint­ed our deal­ings with state and fed­er­al agen­cies, and has result­ed in unnec­es­sary reg­u­la­to­ry and legal action against our fam­i­ly and our farm.”