West Coast
Heidi Gregory of the Tomales Bay Oyster Co. holds an oyster which died before harvest in Marshall in 2019. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

CA - Century-old Tomales Bay oyster farm sanctioned by coastal commission

After more than a century of farming shellfish in Tomales Bay, California’s oldest oyster farm has been brought into the fold of the state’s coastal protections for the first time.

The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously this month to approve an after-the-fact coastal development permit for the Tomales Bay Oyster Co.’s oyster and mussel cultivation in the bay.

First founded in 1909, the company was established several decades before California passed its coastal development protections under the California Coastal Act and formed the California Coastal Commission in 1976.

The company’s past and current owners had never sought a coastal development permit — or approvals from other state and federal regulatory agencies — for its operations up until the mid-2010s, according to the commission.

Heidi Gregory, who now manages the company after taking ownership from her father Charles Friend in 2017, has been continuing her father’s work to remove old legacy equipment from their 160-acre lease and now to bring the farm into compliance with various regulatory agencies.

“We’re also proud of finally getting through this process,” Gregory said on Tuesday. “It took us a long time. It’s great to be finished with it.”

The permit allows the company to continue holding its 160-acre lease on Tomales Bay, of which 33 acres can be used to grow oysters and mussels. The permit is effective through Feb. 8, 2027 and requires the company to comply with certain conditions.

The company must remove a floating barge and all abandoned shellfish cultivation equipment within its lease within one year unless an extension is granted. About 70 cubic yards of equipment and material, including rope, iron racks, cultivation bags and PVC posts will need to be removed across nearly 5 acres, Gregory said.

Other conditions include requiring the company to mark all of its shellfish bags within two years; use pre-identified vessel routes when traveling to their equipment to avoid disturbing wildlife and habitat; submit an annual report of its cleanup efforts and staff trainings; inspect its farming equipment for signs of Pacific herring spawning from December through February, among other conditions.

“We want to be good stewards of the bay and take care of the land that we are in charge of,” Gregory said. “That’s important to us and to keep this beautiful place that we live in as pristine as we can. As farmers, we are the first to see what’s going on in the water, if it’s happy or healthy and if it’s not healthy then there is something we need to change.”

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