POINT REYES STATION, Calif. (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited Marin County on Wednesday on a fact-finding mission to decide the fate of a family-run oyster farm in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Salazar met with the owners of the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. and toured its harvesting and canning operations before meeting with environmentalists and National Park Service officials.
The interior secretary is expected to decide next week whether to allow the oyster farm to continue operating in the national seashore. The company is seeking a 10-year extension of its lease, which expires Nov. 30.
Salazar said Wednesday he wanted to see the oyster farm for himself and review a final environmental report before making a final decision.
"How we move forward with the decision is something I'm giving a lot of thought to," Salazar told Drakes Bay employees. "My mission today, frankly, is to learn some more."
The oyster company began operating in Drakes Estero more than 70 years ago before the seashore became part of the National Park system in 1962. The farm produces nearly 40 percent of California's commercial oysters.
Environmentalists and park officials say the oyster farm's operations threaten nearby harbor seals and other native species. They want the waters of Drakes Estero returned to wilderness.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the National Academy of Sciences have charged that the National Parks Service is trying to get rid of the oyster farm by exaggerating its negative impacts on the environment.