What Drakes Bay Oyster Means to Our Community
Almost 40% of California's Shellfish Production, All Marketed Locally in the Bay Area
Drakes Bay oysters comprise almost 40% of California's shellfish production and are marketed exclusively in the Bay area. Even still, the demand for oyster products far exceeds the state's production level, and the majority of shellfish products consumed in the state are imported from the Pacific Northwest and the Atlantic and Gulf states.1 Without Drakes Bay oysters, the Bay area would have to import an additional ~38,000 lbs of oysters each week.2 Importing from Seattle would generate 577 tons of carbon per year; importing from the Chesapeake bay would generate 1800 tons; and importing from Tokyo would generate 3600 tons!3 And at a time when America's seafood trade deficit (at $10 billion) is second only to foreign oil, every shell counts when it comes to local seafood.
Oysters are an amazing foodsource. Oysters require no feed, no fertilizers, no chemicals, and no cultivation. Drakes Bay Oyster Farm produces 500,000 lbs of shucked oyster meat each year on less than 150 acres of water bottom. It is estimated that it would take over 30,000 acres of pasture to produce the equivalent amount of protein on grass-based beef operation. Oysters are nature's best source of the trace mineral zinc, with up to 100mg per gram (second on the list is ginger root at 7mg per gram!).4 Zinc is good for your skin, your immune system, and speeds up healing after an injury.5 Oysters have also been recently promoted as one of ten flu fighting foods.6
Oysters are a prized part of many cultures, especially those from Asia, Central America, and Northern Europe. Every day, we see people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities visiting the oyster farm.
30 Jobs and Housing for Families
The oyster farm is the second largest employer within Point Reyes National Seashore, employing 30 full time workers and providing housing for many of them. In an area that traditionally only offers farm employment opportunity to men on the dairy farms and beef ranches, the oyster farm employs both men and women. These families have been a part of the community here in West Marin, some for multiple generations. We see them at school, at church, at the local store, and the barber shop. It is unlikely they would be able to stay if the oyster farm had to go.
Educational and Ecological Benefits
Drakes Bay Oyster Farm is the only farm within Point Reyes National Seashore that is open to the public. Visitors are given the rare opportunity to fully experience and understand the history of agriculture within the Point Reyes National Seashore, the sustainable farming practices used around and within Drakes Estero, and the sensitive balance of both producing food and protecting nature in the important working landscapes of Marin County.
As the state's last operating oyster cannery, Drakes Bay Oyster Farm has a unique resource: piles and piles of oyster shells. Over $10,000 worth of shell has been donated to the Native Oyster Restoration Project in the San Francisco Bay.7 The shell has been used to create a reef onto which native oyster seed can attach. The farm has also donated shell to the Western Snowy Plover Recovery Project. The shells provide excellent camouflage for adults, eggs, and chicks, increasing plover nest density and nesting success.8
Drakes Bay Oyster Farm is also responsible for more water sampling, oyster meat sampling and phytoplankton sampling than any other sampler on the California coast. These data are crucial to the state of California's monitoring programs to ensure environmental protection, public health, and further scientific awareness of marine biotoxins.
Aside from these indirect contributions, oysters themselves have been found to be beneficial to the ecosystem. The National Academy of Sciences writes: "The literature on estuarine ecosystems and restoration identifies oysters as a major contributor to maintaining or restoring water quality and as important biogenic habitat for demersal fishes and mobile crustaceans [...] oysters typically have largely beneficial biogeochemical functions in estuarine and lagoonal ecosystems."9
The World Wildlife Fund also writes: "Filter-feeding bivalves (clams, mussels, scallops and oysters) make up approximately one-quarter of the world's aquaculture production [...] Unlike most fin fish and crustaceans, filter-feeding bivalves feed on naturally occurring phytoplankton at the base of the food chain. This eliminates the need for external feed inputs. Also, these shellfish often improve water quality by filtering sediment and excess nutrients. Shellfish gear and culture practices can influence the diversity and abundance of fish and invertebrates in surrounding waters and benthic substrates. The complex three-dimensional habitat created by shellfish can be beneficial because it often is colonized by a diversity of vertebrate and invertebrate fauna. A more indirect environmental benefit is that, because this type of seafood depends on clean water, coastal communities that farm bivalve shellfish are highly committed to protecting water quality."10