It’s Had Its Issues, But The OysterFest Is Back Big-Time – June 16, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

By Terrence McNally

Arcata Eye

Todd Van Herpe is counting his blessings, all things considered. The Humboldt Bay Oyster Company owner has been struggling with production through one of the rainiest springs on record.

But, then again, he’s not attempting to farm oysters in the New Orleans region where oil plumes are putting companies out of business and expected to damage beds for a half-century.

In the Arcata Bay, where 70 percent of the state’s oyster harvesting is done, rain means runoff, which means halts to farming.

Through the springtime, bay farmers received several three-to-four day stoppages from county Public Health. Cow-pasture and stormwater runoff is bad news for filter feeders.

On several occasions, a four-day stop would be followed by… yet another storm.

Van Herpe weathered the season better than others as his company also supplies oyster seedlings to West Coast farms in addition to doing his own harvesting. Rain halts kept his crew from supplying full-grown oysters to San Francisco oyster bars, but work transitioned to HBOC’s other activities.

Regardless, it wasn’t until last weekend’s forecasts called for dry skies that Van Herpe knew he could keep his commitment to 12 Plaza booths totalling 40,000 oysters for Saturday’s 20th Annual Arcata Bay Oyster Festival.

HBOC joins Mad River Farms and Coast Seafoods as the main suppliers, augmented by smaller farmer Aqua Rodeo.

Arcata Mainstreet Executive Director Jennifer Koopman is breathing perhaps a bigger sigh of relief. The 2005 rain out of the scheduled Oyster Festival is still recalled as a nadir in the OF success story.

With downpours continual, then-director Michael Behney reluctantly pulled the plug on proceedings.

The party went on a week later, but the ensuing backlash from oyster companies who’d already pulled mollusks from their beds and financial hit to Mainstreet were permanently detrimental to Behney’s tenure. He was given his pink slip by then-President Bryan Plumley on Christmas Eve of that year.

That’s a fate Koopman will be avoiding. Attendance since 2004 has gone up substantially and the festival is now estimated to bring 18,000 people to the town square. In 2004, the financial bump from OF to Arcata’s economy was estimated at $551,000.

Accounting for the 4,000-person attendance increase and attendant $39.36 spent by the average partier, it’s quite likely the town will get a $708,480 jumpstart to its economy – spread among hotels, restaurants and retailers.

Not too shabby for a one-day event, far and away Arcata’s biggest festival.

Aside from the weather, Koopman’s biggest challenge has been maintaining previous sponsorship totals. “Because of the economy, some sponsors pulled out,” she reports.

However, the early denials forced Mainstreet to hustle. In the end, the non-profit gained sponsorships and brought most rejecters back to their previous levels. “Every little bit helps.”

Good timing for the business advocacy group that just lost $3,000 in City grants. Mainstreet can expect to garner some $41,000 in budget padding from Saturday, allowing it to continue funding year-round promotions.

Volunteer levels are up, but still being accepted for 1 to 5 p.m. slots. Information is available at (707) 822-4800 and

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