In what may be a final blow to California's only oyster cannery, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that terminated the historic farm's lease in a protected marine wilderness area.
In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected an appeal from Drake's Bay Oyster Company, a 40-year-old oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore that provides at least one third of the state's oysters, claiming that when former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar refused to renew their lease last November, he had relied on distorted scientific evidence and exceeded his powers, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Salazar announced last year that he would not renew the farm's lease in light of a 1976 federal law that reserved 2,500 acres on the shore to become marine wilderness with no commercial activity. The oyster farm fell within the protected area but had stayed open with support from key persons, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, who contended that the farm was both beneficial to and compatible with Point Reyes' wilderness status.
The Ninth Circuit upheld Salazar's decision based on a study he commissioned, finding that the oyster farm possibly caused harm to birds, harbor seals and the marine habitat, the Chronicle reported.
While conservationist groups celebrated Salazar's decision, Feinstein and the National Academy of Sciences claimed the negative impacts on the environment were exaggerated.
In an interview with NBC, Drake's Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny insisted that his company is conscious of running a business in the protected ecosystem. "We care deeply about the environment, yet we are attacked" he said. "We have been called just the reverse. We have been made out to be environmental criminals and nothing could be further from the truth."
However, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the oyster company failed to raise a serious question over the validity of Salazar's decision. In it, Salazar noted that, while he found both positive and negative impacts from the oyster farming in the study, the impact was ultimately uncertain. The court decision also noted that Lunny was fully aware of the lease's expiration and possible non-renewal when he purchased the farm in 2005.
Lunny has 45 days before the court decision is final to ask for a rehearing from the Ninth Circuit Court or proceed with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Marin Independent Journal reports.
CORRECTION: A previous headline for this story suggested the court ruling was a final blow for the oyster farm. Owner Kevin Lunny announced Wednesday he plans to challenge the federal ruling.