POINT REYES STATION (CBS SF) -- The last commercial oysters have been removed from Drakes Bay following the closure of the only oyster farm operating there and National Park Service officials are warning park visitors against collecting any remaining shellfish in the area.
The warning issued Friday by Park Service officials advises visitors to the Point Reyes National Seashore that the collection of Pacific oysters and Manila clams within Drakes Estero is now closed and, because the shellfish are not being monitored, could pose a health threat.
The warning follows the Wednesday closure of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co., which agreed in October to shut down following a long legal battle with the U.S. Interior Department over the loss of its lease.
The company, which also raised Manila clams, has removed every oyster from the water in compliance with the terms of the settlement, according to Ginny Cummings, the farm's manager.
"We have taken anything out and with as much care as we always used in our operations," Cummings said.
Cummings said the park service's health warning is almost certainly unnecessary.
Not only is water quality in the bay excellent, but any stray oysters are unlikely to linger long, as they will quickly become food for the estero's rays and other wildlife, she said.
The Drakes Bay Oyster Co. sued the U.S. Interior Department in federal court to challenge a 2012 decision by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to allow its lease at an estuary of Drakes Bay to expire. Environmental groups supported the move to remove the oyster farm from the bay.
The company lost its bid for a preliminary injunction from a federal trial judge in Oakland and before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The last legal step in the case came in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.
The oyster farm closed its retail and canning operations on July 31, but continued wholesale sales while negotiating with the National Park Service about the terms of a full closure.
The park service will take responsibility for the complex removal of onshore facilities and underwater oyster-farming structures spread over 1,000 acres of the estuary and will also provide federal relocation assistance to company employees.
The company's demise was met with dismay by many in the Point Reyes area and in the sustainable foods community. The company, which sold oysters on site as well as to wholesalers, drew visitors from far away.
"It's a huge loss," Cummings said of the closure.
Oyster farm co-owners Kevin, Joe and Bob Lunny have said they plan to open an oyster restaurant in Inverness.
With the oysters pulled from the water and most of them sold to wholesalers, the company plans to hold one last party to thank those who have supported them over the years.
The potluck, which is open to the public, will take place Saturday, Jan. 3, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Point Reyes Station's Green Barn, at 540 Mesa Road.
Those attending are asked to bring a dish to share as well as any alcoholic beverages they plan to consume. The company, in return, will provide music and oysters.
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