At the request of the NPS, the National Research Council conducted a study to help clarify potential impacts of shellfish farming on the ecology and socioeconomics of Drakes Estero (NRC, 2009). After evaluating the limited scientific literature available on Drakes Estero and relevant research on other similar ecosystems, the committee concluded that “there is a lack of strong scientific evidence that shellfish farming has major adverse effects on Drakes Estero” at current (2008-2009) levels of production and operating practices (NRC, 2009).
On October 30, 2009, Congress granted the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) the discretionary authority to issue a new 10-year SUP (Public Law 111-88, Section 124). This authority allows, but does not require, the Secretary to permit DBOC's continued nonconforming use of the potential wilderness area until November 30, 2022. DBOC submitted a request for the issuance of a new permit upon expiration of the existing authorizations. Thus, the NPS prepared an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to inform this decision. Through the NEPA process, NPS engaged the public and evaluated the effects of alternatives related to the issuance of a new 10-year SUP for the commercial shellfish operation.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), released in September 2011, examines DBOC operations and facilities in and adjacent to Drakes Estero, and offers four alternatives for consideration by the Secretary of the Interior with regard to the permit request (Box 1.1).
Four Alternatives Presented in the DEIS
Alternative A evaluates the “no action” alternative. If the Secretary of Interior does not approve renewal of the SUP, DBOC must terminate all shellfish mariculture, remove its personal property and nonconforming infrastructure, and undertake steps to restore the area to good order and condition.
The NPS DEIS also analyzes the impacts of three alternative scenarios with differing levels of shellfish production if the SUP were to be extended:
Alternative B would permit continued shellfish mariculture at the fall 2010 levels of operation (the date when NPS initiated evaluation under the EIS). Shellfish production would be limited to 600,000 lbs/yr; total acreage of the SUP area, both onshore and offshore, would be ~1,083 acres; Pacific and European flat oysters (Ostrea edulis, a non-indigenous species), and Manila clams could be grown in Area 1 (1,077 acres),13 and purple-hinged rock scallops could be grown in Area 2 (1 acre); new lease boundaries would exclude shellfish culture from harbor seal protected areas with a 100 yard buffer; boat routes, to be approved by NPS, would avoid seal protected areas and minimize prop damage to eelgrass beds. DBOC operations would be subject to NPS harbor seal protection protocol.
Alternative C would require a reduction in the current scale of DBOC operations, consistent with the conditions and operations that existed at the time the current SUP was signed in April 2008. Shellfish production would be limited to 500,000 lbs/yr; total acreage of the SUP area, including both onshore and offshore areas, would be ~901 acres; Pacific and European flat oysters could be cultivated in Area 1 (896 acres), Manila clams and purple-hinged rock scallops could be grown only in Area 2 (1 acre); new lease boundaries would exclude harbor seal protected areas with a 100 yard buffer; boat routes, to be approved by NPS, would avoid seal protected areas and minimize damage prop to eelgrass beds. DBOC operations would be subject to NPS harbor seal protection protocol.
Alternative D permits an increase in the scale of operations, and an additional or modified onshore facilities and infrastructure as requested by DBOC as part of the EIS process. Shellfish production is limited to 850,000 lbs/yr; total acreage of the SUP area, including both onshore and offshore areas, would be ~1,087 acres; Pacific, Olympia and European flat oysters, Manila clams, and purple-hinged rock scallops may be grown in Area 1 (1,082 acres; Area 2 would no longer be managed as a separate permitted area); new lease boundaries will exclude harbor seal protected areas with a 100 yard buffer; boat routes, to be approved by NPS, will avoid seal protected areas and minimize prop damage to eelgrass beds. DBOC operations would be subject to NPS harbor seal protection protocol.
13 See DEIS p. 61 and Table 2.5 (p. 122-125) for description of lease areas under the action alternatives and Figure 2-1 for map that shows locations of Areas 1 and 2.