The Drakes Bay Oysters Co. is making its final legal bid to stay open and there is fear if it fails oyster prices will rise and the bivalve business in the region won't be the same.
Drakes Bay Oysters Co. owner Kevin Lunny is nearing the end of his legal rope. As expected, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers last week rejected an appeal of her previous ruling dismissing a preliminary injunction request to halt the federally-ordered closure.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will now take up the appeal. It will receive arguments from the government Tuesday on why Drakes Bay should close and Lunny's team will likely respond Thursday, then it will be up to the court to decide the fate of the oyster farm.
If it does not grant the injunction, Drakes Bay will have to close operations by March 15, a move many believe will lead to higher oyster prices in the region.
Lunny has said his operation accounts for up to 40 percent of the commercial oyster production in the state.
"It will be tough," said Douglas Bernstein, executive chef at Fish in Sausalito, which procures three different types of oysters from Drakes Bay. "It is the larger shucked oysters that they provide that will be hard to replace."
Those may have to come from Washington state and with higher costs.
"We are talking about getting oysters in 45 minutes from Drakes Bay versus 14 hours," Bernstein said. "And it costs more to get them sent here and
you have an impact on the environment because of the transportation needed. You also are talking about the quality of the product. From Drakes Bay you get them as soon as they are out of the water. There are a lot of impacts to this."
Eventually the added costs will be passed on to oyster consumers, but not right away, Bernstein said.
"I think a lot restaurants will have to eat the costs initially," he said.
The Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station offers a variety of oyster dishes from stew to shooters. About 40 percent of its oysters come from Drakes Bay.
"We are definitely looking ahead on this, we get a lot of oysters from them," said Wayne Pratt, executive chef, who has noticed some prices for oysters already inching up. "We will have no choice but to pass along the costs, but we don't want it to get to a point where it becomes a delicacy that no one can afford."
If Drakes Bay closes, that doesn't necessarily mean a financial boon for other local producers.
"We are already maxed out as far as our business demand," said Martin Seiler, manager of the Tomales Bay Oyster Co. in Marshall. "With one less operation it will be harder for tourists out here who enjoy buying oysters on site. We are already busy and it will just get more crowded if Drakes Bay closes."
The closure order came on Nov. 29 of last year when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he would allow a 40-year lease - originally negotiated with the Johnson Oyster Co. in 1972 and taken on by Drakes Bay - to expire.
Oyster producers in the Northwest that seemingly would stand to gain from a closure of Drakes Bay by producing more said that is not necessarily the case.
"No doubt the closure of Drakes Bay would have a huge impact down there," said Margaret Pilaro Barrette, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association, which represents oyster operations in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. "But there is already a shortage of oysters on the West Coast and the demand is growing domestically and internationally."
Barrette does expect prices to rise with demand.
"And to take these oysters to other places means there are transportation costs, and those get passed on," she said.
Contact Mark Prado via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
©2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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