Friday, November 30, 2012


U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a popular oyster farm at Drakes Bay on Thursday to pack up and leave, effectively ending more than a century of shellfish harvesting on the picturesque inlet where Europeans first set foot in California.
Salazar's decision ends a long-running dispute between the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. and the National Park Service over the estuary at Point Reyes National Seashore where Sir Francis Drake landed more than 400 years ago.
The National Park Service intends to turn the 2,700-acre area into the first federally designated marine wilderness area on the West Coast, giving the estuary special protected status as an unaltered ecological region. To do that, Salazar rejected the oyster company's proposal to extend its 40-year lease to harvest shellfish on 1,100 acres of the property.
Salazar gave the farm 90 days to move out, issuing his decision a day before the lease was set to expire and one week after visiting the Point Reyes National Seashore for a tour.
"After careful consideration of the applicable law and policy, I have directed the National Park Service to allow the permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. to expire at the end of its current term and to return the Drakes Estero to the state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976," Salazar said in a statement. "I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape."
The estuary, known as Drakes Estero, is home to tens of thousands of endangered birds, including 90 species, and the largest seal colony on the coast. It is within the boundaries of the national seashore, which is visited by 2 million people a year, providing $85 million in economic activityand 1,000 jobs to surrounding communities, according to park officials.
Salazar had the option to extend the lease for 10 years after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., included the provision in a rider on an appropriations bill.

Owner shocked

Kevin Lunny, a local rancher who bought the shellfish operation from Johnson Oyster Co. in 2004, said he was shocked when he got a call directly from Salazar on Thursday morning telling him that the 40-year occupancy agreement would not be renewed.
"It's disbelief and excruciating sorrow," he said of the mood at the oyster farm, where 30 people are employed, including seven families that live on the property.
"There are 30 people, all in tears this morning, who are going to lose their jobs and their homes," Lunny said. "They are experts in seafood handling and processing in the last oyster cannery in California, and there is nowhere for them to go."
Many local conservationists were nevertheless overjoyed. Congressional representatives, including Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, former Park Service employees, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society and the Marin Audubon Society applauded the decision.
"A heartfelt salute to Secretary Salazar for his wisdom and statesmanship in choosing long-term public good over short-term private interests," said Sylvia Earle, a local environmentalist and the former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Protecting Drakes Estero, America's only West Coast marine wilderness park, will restore health and hope for the ocean and for the interests of all of the people of this country."

Impact on supply

The decision to shut down the shellfish operation and establish a marine wilderness will have a major impact in rural west Marin County, where many consider the oysters from Drakes Bay a delicacy. The vast coastal area is home to 15 historic dairy farms and cattle ranches, sheepherders and organic farmers who live and work next to, and in some cases on, National Park Service land.

The oyster farm has been in business for nearly 80 years. It is California's largest commercial shellfish operation, producing 460,000 pounds of shucked oysters a year, an amount the proprietor says is almost 40 percent of all the oysters harvested in California. It far outstrips the production of growers in nearby Tomales Bay.
Salazar, who is a strong supporter of sustainable agriculture, promised to maintain the seashore's ranching and farming heritage, directing Park Service officials to pursue extensions of agriculture permits from 10 to 20 years within the seashore's pastoral zone, but the promise did little to calm the many shellfish lovers along the coast.
Wade Childress, 59, of San Anselmo, was among the afternoon crowd who stopped by the Drakes Bay oyster shack after news spread that the doors would soon close. Childress said he came to the shack as a boy to eat oysters with his parents and later took his daughter for a tradition they called "seafood day."

Oyster lovers shocked

"I'm mourning right now," Childress said.
Other customers called it a travesty perpetrated by the government.
"This is a good organic food source in our backyard," said Sarah Cane, 48, of San Rafael. "We can co-exist. A department head in Washington, D.C., shouldn't be able to tell this community it can't eat oysters."
There were still unanswered questions as Lunny, his son, Sean, and daughter, Brigid, tried to comfort longtime customers. One was what Lunny is expected to do with the millions of oysters that are still in plastic grow bags in the bay, many of which won't reach market size for another two years. The order requires him to immediately begin bringing them onshore.

Read more:

The Framing of an Oyster Farm - Drake's Bay Oyster Company from A Visual Record on Vimeo.

Monday, November 26, 2012



Sowing The Seeds

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterPin it on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare via email
by Janine Latus
photography by Keith Lanpher
Tom Gallivan is shin-deep in the salty water of the Little Machipongo Inlet, so close to the Atlantic that the tides flood and recede with the pull of the moon, flushing fresh algae and phytoplankton through his oyster beds and filling the animals’ bellies. Oysters grown here, in a marsh without rocks, have a clean, salty taste, without the lingering penny-in-your-mouth aftertaste of some New England oysters.
Tom and his crew haul 150-pound cages hand-over-hand onto a boat whose glitchy steering he MacGyvered the day before. Tonight’s moon will be nearly full, so today’s low tide should be long, giving them plenty of time to walk the flats and survey the crop, checking for fouling by silt or seaweed, or pilfering by predators out here next to Hog Island, a place so remote and undeveloped it’s designated as a protected biosphere by the United Nations.
A bald eagle watches from its perch on a driftwood log on a point on the edge of Sandy Island Bay. Herons hunt in the shallows. Ospreys scream and dive. There’s nobody out here but Tom and his team and the occasional shark.
“There’ll be times,” he says, “when we see something and we’re like, ‘I think I’m going to get back in the boat for a while.’ ”
Today, though, Tom stands in waders in the chilly early-morning tide. The sun slants through the mist that rises off the marsh. The water’s so low he can see every tiny island, every reef, every cache of cages. He can’t loiter, though. He needs to get these oysters onto the dock and into his refrigerated truck before 9 a.m. Later in the fall he’ll be able to bring them in as late as 10 or 11, but now, in late summer, he has to hustle them in quickly so they’ll stay cool enough to be safe to eat. Oyster farming is so highly regulated by both the government and the industry itself that if he goes out on the water in the afternoon he’ll carry a GPS stick to prove to marine patrol officers that he’s out and back within two hours. It’s a rule, but he’d take care anyway.
“We’re in the shellfish business but also the public health business,” Tom says. “None of us as human beings wants people to get sick, but it’s also just incredibly bad for business, especially when you’re selling a branded product.”
Tom and Ann Arseniu Gallivan own Shooting Point Oysters, working on the western side of the East­ern Shore on Nassawadox Creek, where they pro­duce their Nassawadox Salts, and in the nature preserve on the eastern side of the Eastern Shore, where they produce Shooting Point Salts. They are part of a new breed of oyster farmers – highly educated aquaculturists who combine the generations-long connections and traditions of Eastern Shore watermen with the science of genetics and nutrition, cross-breeding and bathymetry, and the constant monitoring of offshore winds and barometric pressure. They talk about Haplosporidium nelsoni and Perkinsus marinus – the pathogens MSX and Dermo – that can wipe out their populations. They worry about proliferations of the native widgeon grass, because when it dies it sinks and suffocates all those baby oysters in the bottom of the cages.
“People have a perception of a waterman – an old guy, an old boat, just doing it one way,” says Ann, “but the way we have to do it is so technology-based, we have the GPS, we’re constantly sending in reports, we have clipboards in the packing house and we’re constantly recording the temperature of the cooler and of our animals when they come in and when they go out.”
The Gallivans aren’t hunter-gatherers, pulling native oysters out of the over-stressed Chesapeake Bay. They’re farmers, planting the seed, nurturing it, then harvesting it and bringing it to market.
Much of the seed starts in the nearby J.C. Walker Brothers hatchery, where Ann is CEO and hatchery manager. It is a place full of chest-high white vats as big around as wading pools, with sunlight and filtered creek water coming in from above and used water flowing out through a screen below, and of clear cylinders that look like alien transport tubes from sci-fi movies, tubes that during the season are full of algae in all shades of green. Ann grows the algae first in beakers and then in these massive cylinders – clear to allow photosynthesis – then titrates, a bit of this one and a bit of that, to feed the baby oysters she has created by hand, stripping selected females of their eggs and males of their sperm, then using pipettes to mix them carefully, making sure one male’s Michael Phelps-like swimmers don’t impregnate the whole bunch, because that kind of inbreeding would be bad for her product.
For a couple of weeks the grain-sized oysters swim around, Ann looking through their clear shells to see if she’s giving them enough algae, enough fresh creek water. The oyster babies are right-handed helical swimmers, their stubby appendage moving them in awkward circles. At 2 or 3 weeks they develop an “eye spot,” and Ann can tell they’re about to develop a 200-micron byssal thread and a gluey foot. That’s all they have to attach to something hard. If they fail, they die, and in the wild – between the lack of hard surfaces and the prevalence of predators – their odds are awful. Even under Ann’s care only between 15 and 20 percent survive.
Those that do are moved from the hatchery to the nursery, a dockside float of bins suspended into the creek right outside an oyster house built in the 1880s. A small engine draws creek water up through the baby oysters, feeding them as they grow. The bins in this floating upweller system – “flupsy,” for short – each hold thousands of baby oysters so small that half a hundred sit easily on Tom’s dinged and scarred fingertips.
The Gallivans grow triploid oysters, too. Triploids, developed through cross-breeding, have three sets of chromosomes, making them as sterile as mules and thus intent only on eating and growing, with no energy wasted on reproduction. Their size stays consistent, which makes it possible to keep oysters on restaurant menus year-round.
All of them, the diploids and the triploids, will soon be hauled out of the water and into the sorting house, where they’ll be run through cylinders and washed, sorted and tumbled, which knocks off the beginnings of the elongated bill that gives wild oysters their cat-tongue shape and instead forms them into the deep round cups that make oysters on the half shell so inviting.
Ann stands on the prow of the Oyster Queen – a barge “built for duty, not for beauty,” Tom says – as he maneuvers it next to one of the poles made of stripped local gum trees that they drive into the creek bottom to mark where they’ve planted cages. She drops the stab (pronounced “stahb”), a PVC pipe that will hold the boat in place, and Tom winches one cage down for every one he pulls up.
Here, where the creek meets the Bay, the tiny oysters filter water and algae through gills like tiny whale baleen. A crystalline style in their stomach acts as a mortar and pestle to grind up anything vaguely crunchy, so they’re chewing, in a sense, with their bellies. By the time the oyster releases the water back into the creek it’s cleaner, stripped of the organic matter that clogs the Bay, and the oyster is beginning to develop the sweet, slightly salty flavor of the Nassawadox Salts line.
The ones Ann and Tom just pulled out they’ll tumble and grade and pick off the squirters and shrimp and sucker fish, then put into cages with a bigger mesh to allow for even more water flow. They’ll do this six or seven times in the two years it takes oysters to reach market size, pulling them in, tumbling them, running them back out, always leaving the dirty cages in the farm’s yard to dry so the sun can kill any clinging barnacles or grasses rather than return their nitrogen to the creek.
“It’s analogous to organic farming,” Tom says. “We’re weeding, knocking off sea squirts, which are little tunicates that’ll foul the cages, rinsing off silt, picking out weeds.”
Tom’s dad was a fisherman in New England and Tom, now 39, had wanted to stay on the water but also have a more reliable income. He got his aquaculture degree from the University of Maine, worked on breeding triploid oysters at Rutgers University with Professor Stan Allen, then came with Allen to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary (where his title was “Breeding and Demonstration Associate,“ making his official acronym BADASS).
Ann, 42, had also worked at Rutgers with Allen, but by the time Tom got there she was at Maine’s College of the Atlantic. From there she did graduate work at Washington State University and only then came to VIMS to be its hatchery manager.
In 2001 they moved to this spot overlooking the conflux of Church Creek and the Nassawadox and built their own home, block by block, board by board. For the first seven or eight years they had the whole creek to themselves but now they share it with about 13 other oyster-farming families and a winery.
“The past six or seven years have been like a renaissance in oysters,” says Allen, now director of VIMS’ Aquaculture Genetics & Breeding Technology Center.
Ann and Tom are good at it, producing a couple million a year. They work on beautiful, breezy days and on days so choppy it’s hard to stay standing. When nor’easters and hurricanes roll in they bounce through the waves to anchor down their cages and pull in their boats. They could lose everything, or they could have a bumper year.
“It’s a gamble,” Tom says, “which is why we don’t go to Atlantic City. We just go out there to the creek, because we could lose everything at any moment, or we could have a great summer!”
“It’s not the perfect, sunny days that make the mettle of these guys,” says Allen, “It’s when they have to go out in the storm or break through the ice to get at their cages.”
Almost regardless of the weather, if someone is ordering oysters, out the Gallivans go.
And people are ordering a lot of oysters. The Gallivans’ branded oysters are on the menus at Rockefeller’s down at Rudee Inlet and at the high-end Lemaire restaurant in the grand Jefferson Hotel in Richmond. The couple deliver their oysters to chefs in Chapel Hill and New York, Boston and Washington. Locally they’re sold at George’s Seafood and Welton’s Seafood Markets. A smaller version called Avery’s Pearls goes up to Ryleigh’s Oyster up in the Federal Hill district of Baltimore. In one of the Gallivans’ many family-to-family collaborations, they and the restaurant owner are donating 10 cents a Pearl to the Johns Hopkins breast cancer research center; they’re already up to $3,200.
That level of success requires marketing, so when Tom isn’t smeared with tar-dark mud he’s sitting at the computer, sending out oyster-related tweets. He and Ann participate in events of the Southern Foodways Alliance, dedicated to celebrating Southern-style food. They take chefs out to visit the cages. They drive to conferences, woo restaurateurs, take students out on their boats, help everybody they can.
“I don’t know anybody who works harder,” says Bernie Herman, a professor of American Studies and Folklore at UNC-Chapel Hill who has written about the culture of Eastern Shore watermen and who came to the Gallivans when he started his own oyster plot on a nearby creek. Ann explained reproductive dynamics and Tom showed Herman a system of cages, then, heck, gave him the cages and seed and helped him hook up with the folks at VIMS.
“What was barren mud is now home to thousands of native oysters and all the myriad creatures that live around them,” Herman says. “I couldn’t have done it without Tom and Ann.”
Herman also admires the Gallivans’ commitment to improving the Bay. “They don’t wear it on their sleeve,” he says. “They live it.”
Tom gives a little laugh.
“Out here ‘sustainability’ is not a buzz word,” he says. “It’s what you have to do to survive.”
He pilots his boat out across the water, a slight smile on his face.
“It still blows my mind that we come out here every day,” he says. “There’s the financially rewarding part of it, of course, and that’s great. But just when it’s cold and rainy and it sucks and you’re beating through waves – and these boats beat the heck out of you – you’re still like, yeah, but I’m here, I’m not sitting in a cubicle somewhere.”
He points out a giant leatherback turtle.
“I’m in one of the last great places on Earth,” he says. “It’s a pretty damn cool place to come to work every day.”

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Some underwater shots of our cages during the summer months...I will try to get some winter time shots so you can see the difference...enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012


So this is just a quick run through of what we had in OC so if you missed it here is your recap...

We brought the oyster counter with us...Irv flat out said we weren't selling it after we started our demonstrations with it because he wants to use it,... no worries we have more.

We now have a sweet tank up-weller in our line of helpful things to run an oyster farm successfully.  You can buy this as you see it, as a kit or just the tank.

Close up of the oyster counter.  We will soon have this in line with a small hopper conveyor and washing tube feeding this puppy.  So washing, counting, and bagging/boxing can all be done in one step.

Seed tube visible in foreground....1/4"-1/2" hole sizes...makes upweller sorting a breeze!

We were able to spread out a bit more this year, so cages and such on one side and equipment on the other.

These new wire bins are made of 8g galvanized 3x3, they come in a 3x3x3 or 3x4x3 size, can purchased built or in a kit.  They are sweet for holding random stuff especially if its heavy.  We store our wood in these bins for use in the winter and move them around with the tractor.

More stuff...oh yeah!  I did find BIODEGRADABLE shell netting(not pictured) in case anyone is interested, just give me a shout.  This stuff is light and temp sensitive so it should work on a shoreline.

QuickTube Sorter...we now have several tube sizes available in Aluminum  and Stainless Steel, get your order in now so you can have it for the new season.

3x3 or 4.5x4.5 we have bag cages to suit your every need.  How big or how small do you want to go?

The oyster farming standards...3x4 Lowpros 1"x1" and .5"x.5", also seen is a 4x4 made with 12.5g 1"x1" and 10.5g legs...this cage will last a while...oh yeah its a triple stack, you need a big crane.

Flip floats and taylor floats.

Bags and float bags.  We got a container in December and they were pretty much all gone by New Years...we have 9mm sealed left and we are placing a container order now.  If you need bags and you want the best price call us now.  Intermas finally raised their prices after years...literally years of holding prices, so our price went up by $0.25 per bag, not the end of the world but it did go up, best price is still volume pre-order.

Another shot of the tank upweller.  It can hold 700K 1/4" seed easy...not sure who holds 1/4" seed... you should be sorting that out and moving it along, so the capacity on this system (with the right pump--not included, but we can show you some options) is well past the 700K for number of oysters you can run thru it.

And of course what would the OC show be without our oysters on Friday night!!!