Healthy West Marin Watersheds

background: why Tomales Bay and its Watershed are so unique

Tomales Bay is a long narrow inlet of the Pacific Ocean approximately 15 miles long and averages nearly 1.0 mile wide, which effectively separates the Point Reyes Peninsula from the mainland of Marin County. The bay forms the eastern boundary of Point Reyes National Seashore, and was formed along a submerged portion of the San Andreas Fault. The bay is recognized for protection by the California Bays and Estuaries Policy and is managed for competing interests including tourism, six aquaculture operations, birding, fishing, boating, nearby agriculture, and recreation.

EAC has been working to protect Tomales Bay and its watershed since 1971, including securing its nomination as the 19th USA Ramsar site, or international wetland of importance in 2002 (nomination and update) and a sail-in protest to protect the Giacomini Wetlands. We remain active in the legacy of Tomales Bay protection, including our current work on aquaculture best management practices (BMPs), monitoring new aquaculture leases along the bay, and advocating for sustainable fisheries. We work collaboratively with many stakeholders, including our active role in the Tomales Bay Watershed Council and through our Waters Advisory Committee, which has developed a set of guiding principles for our work on Tomales Bay and Bolinas Lagoon issues. As part of our Healthy West Marin Watersheds campaign, we are committed to the long-term health of the Tomales Bay and surrounding watersheds. 

The application is incomplete, ambiguous, nearly illegible and contains several inconsistencies.
— Ashley Eagle-Gibbs, EAC's Conservation Director before the Fish and Game Commission in 2017
free oyster image from morguefile.jpg

new aquaculture lease
first proposal in 25 years

In the end of 2016, a new aquaculture (shellfish) lease was proposed. This is the first new lease proposal in over 25 years. The application, submitted by San Andreas Shellfish company, to the Fish and Game Commission (F&G Commission) proposes a lease in an area that will likely impact harbor seals, birds, eelgrass, vessel traffic, and public access.

EAC testified at the February 2017 F&G Commission hearing, requesting a re-submittal. Despite our testimony, the F&G Commission marked the application as received, primarily as a procedural matter. 

The application is now with the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for their review on behalf of the F&G Commission. According the the regulations, "No state leases shall be issued unless the Commission determines that the lease is in the public interest in a public hearing conducted in a fair and transparent matter, with notice and comment..." CDFW will help the F&G Commission make this determination by preparing a report. As of July 2019, CDFW staff is working with San Andreas Shellfish company on their proposal. 

We are fully engaged in the public process surrounding this lease application and have been in contact with F&G Commission, the CDFW, the California Coastal Commission, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and other Tomales Bay advocates and stakeholders to ensure coastal resources are not harmed by the proposed lease. We will keep our members informed on the status of the application, next steps, and opportunities for public involvement in online action alerts.

More Information regarding the proposed lease: 

Lease Application
EAC February 2017 comment letter

Best Management Practices (BMPs) are general overarching principles and specific procedures used to guide the day-to-day operation of aquaculture businesses to improve production while preserving the environment.
— NOAA Fisheries (1)



EAC is in regular contact with the CDFW and other stakeholders on the formal rulemaking process, which has been delayed. The next steps in this process likely include additional stakeholder input. The issuance of an Initial Statement of Reasons (ISOR) is anticipated in 2019 or 2020. The ISOR will officially begin the formal rulemaking process.

aquaculture best management practices (BMPs) & CDP conditions

Due in part to EAC's advocacy, stakeholders are working together to develop BMPs for the aquaculture or shellfish industry. Following a well-attended meeting at Marconi Conference Center in July 2017, the F&G Commission has undertaken the preliminary steps in a formal rulemaking process, which will continue in 2019. EAC continues its involvement in the BMP development process and advocates for measurable and enforceable BMPs, mandatory clean ups, and employee training to ensure that marine pollution is reduced and ideally eliminated. We look forward to continued and expanded work with our local partners on this important issue. 

On October 25, 2018, EAC represented the environmental interest along with a member of our Waters Advisory Committee, participating at an additional stakeholder meeting in Santa Rosa. Then on November 14, 2018, Ashley Eagle-Gibbs, EAC’s Conservation Director, traveled to Sacramento with a member of our Waters Advisory Committee to continue to advocate for BMPs to the Fish and Game Commission’s Marine Resources Committee (MRC).

The rulemaking is supported by the recently released Ocean Protection Council’s Final 2018 California Ocean Litter Prevention Strategy, which EAC commented on. 

To further advocate for BMPs or conditions, EAC is also supportive of the addition of conditions in aquaculture growers California Coastal Commission Coastal Development Permits (CDP). EAC submitted supportive comments for the CDP permit amendments made to Marin Oyster Company Inc.’s permit in May 2018, in addition to submitting comments regarding the CDP permit amendments to Hog Island Oyster Company’s permits in February 2019. Most recently, EAC submitted comments regarding the CDP permit amendments to Charles Friend Oyster Company’s permit in August 2019.

Resources & More Information regarding the BMP Rulemaking & Special Conditions:

EAC Comment Letters:

EAC Comment Letters to the FGC: February, March, July 2017
Joint Letter with Hog Island Oyster Co., February 2018
November 2018

EAC Comment Letters to the California Coastal Commission re: special conditions: Marin Oyster Company Company Inc. May 2018, Hog Island Oyster Company February 2019, Charles Friend Oyster Company August 2019



EAC supports sustainable fisheries and gets involved around local fisheries issues where there is a clear impact to Tomales Bay. Our goal is to ensure that our local waters maintain healthy and vibrant populations of marine life.

Between 2018 to 2019, we submitted comments on the Pacific Herring Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and its implementing regulations. The focus of our comments included our support for a recreational herring daily limit, our opposition to the continuation of a commercial fishery in Tomales Bay, and our opposition to the continued recreational take of herring roe in Tomales Bay.

EAC’s Comment Letters:

EAC Comment Letters to the FGC regarding the FMP and its implementing regulations: September 2019, August 2019.
EAC Comment Letter to the Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding the FMP scoping: September 2018.

Marine debris collected by EAC and volunteers, which was re-purposed for an art show 2015-2016

Marine debris collected by EAC and volunteers, which was re-purposed for an art show 2015-2016

"Reality" by Casey Fritz, EAC MPA Watch Intern, 2015-16

"Reality" by Casey Fritz, EAC MPA Watch Intern, 2015-16

research & Advocacy: marine debris and eelgrass 

Marine debris is a problem threatening our world's waterways, including Tomales Bay and its watershed. A few ways EAC is working to combat marine debris is through its work above on BMPs, through our No Straw, Please campaign, and through our support for a county-wide ordinance banning single use plastics in Marin.  

EAC is also engaged with CDFW and the F&G Commission to advocate for the clean up of any legacy marine debris in Tomales Bay. EAC also holds annual trash clean ups, reducing trash from our watershed and directly from Tomales Bay.  Learn more about how you can participate in EAC's Coastal Clean Up Day

Tomales Bay is a sensitive eelgrass habitat. Marine flowering plants, or seagrasses, such as eel grass or surf grass provide homes to many marine creatures. EAC is closely monitoring eelgrass research taking place on the Bay. You can count on EAC to remain engaged and critical in its review. 

Eelgrass Research Resources: 

Marine Debris & Ocean Litter Resources:


1. Shellfish Aquaculture, NOAA Fisheries