Aw Shucks to Oyster Farm Lease

A federal appeals court refused Tuesday to reconsider its September decision to allow closure of Drakes Bay Oyster Co. farm on national seashore land, with the expiration of its lease.  The Oyster farm has only one legal hope left – the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just one of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 27 judges, Paul Watford, indicated he was willing to grant a request for en banc rehearing to the oyster farm.  Watford also dissented from the original three-judge panel decision to uphold the lease terms.

The farm challenged the Secretary of Interior’s discretionary decision to allow the lease to lapse in 2012 as part of efforts to restore the Point Reyes National Seashore to its natural state.

The national seashore was established in 1962 but certain commercial businesses were allowed to continue until their leases expired.  The popular Drakes Bay Oyster farm, which has operated since the 1930s on five acres, was one of those companies.  Owners of the farm sold their land to the U.S. in 1972 with a 40-year reservation to occupy the land and operate the oyster farm.  The farm was sold in 2004, to DrakesBay with the understanding that the lease ended in November 2012.

But DrakesBay has been fighting to hold off the closure and popular support among local residents can be seen in homemade signs along the road supporting DrakesBay lease extension.

The appeal court sided with environmentalists over foodies, who wanted to keep the oyster operation going.  The majority said Congress authorized, but did not require, the Secretary of Interior to extend the permit to operate.  The decision was in his discretion.

In dissent, Watford said Congress intended to override the Dept. of Interior’s misinterpretation of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act, and would favor allowing the farm to remain.

Case:  Drakes Bay Oyster Co. v. Jewell, No. 13-15227


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