Drakes Bay Oyster Farm: RIP

On the hottest day of summer and just days after Judge Judy Gonzales slammed Drakes Bay Oyster Farm in court, I visited Drakes Estero for perhaps the last time. Maybe not forever. I might go back when it’s Wilderness with a capital W and no longer a working farm.

I was surprised to find Jorge Mata and a skeleton crew still harvesting and processing oysters. Ginny Cummings, a mainstay at the company, explained that the oyster farm is allowed to harvest and sell oysters wholesale, but not retail.

On the way to the coast, I read signs that said, “Drakes Bay Oysters for Sale.” They won’t be on sale much longer. Time has finally run out for the Lunny clan, unless they can work a miracle. They’ve done it before, much to the consternation of their foes and the delight of their friends in a community that has been divided right down the middle with citizens on all sides refusing to speak civilly to one another.

The issue attracted national attention from wilderness and oyster lovers and from lovers of both oysters and wilderness. I’ve been to Drakes Estero again and again over the past few years. I’ve ventured into the waters with the crew and marveled at the stillness and the beauty of the Estero. I’ve enjoyed conversations and oysters on the half shell with Mata and the Lunnys. I’ve also sat down with environmentalists and farmers who vowed to shut down Drakes Bay Oyster Farm come hell or high water.

Years after the oyster wars began, it’s hard to say what, if anything, the community has learned, except how to stand one’s ground and not budge an inch. If predictions are accurate and California coastlines face rising ocean levels and rising ocean temperatures, all sides will be in the same leaky boat. To survive global climate change, veterans of the oyster wars will have to figure out how to lick wounds and talk civilly. Or we’ll all go down together.

Jonah Raskin (that’s him, holding oysters) lives in Santa Rosa and writes about environmental issues.

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