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Remembering Tod Friend of Tomales Bay Oyster Company

Photo Credit: Tomales Bay Oyster Company

We are saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and fellow industry member, Tod Friend of Tomales Bay Oyster company.

Tod, who was 70, disappeared the afternoon of July 18th, 2017 while on his boat in Tomales Bay. A co-worker spotted the boat adrift and empty. Friend’s body was found and brought to shore the following Saturday.

 

California Aquaculture Association President, Tony Schuur, remembers his history with the Tomales Bay Oyster Company and his short time with Tod:

I have a long history with Tomales Bay Oyster Company (TBOC) and meeting Tod there just the week before his death is a sad irony for me. On the Friday before the Tuesday that Tod disappeared, I traveled to Tomales Bay to get some background on the shellfish issues that were going to be discussed at the California Fish and Game Commission meeting scheduled for the next Monday.

Stoping first at the TBOC, I found Tod working hard with his crew, stripping oyster from their culture bags. I introduced myself as the President of CAA but I also related that, 32 years ago, I was in charge of remodeling the TBOC after my farm management company in Bakersfield bought the Company and property from Mr. Oscar Johanson, who had been growing oysters on the site since 1907. Oscar started with the company as a teenager and finally ended up owning it, raising a family on the farm, and producing oysters continuously until he sold. When we bought the farm and continued to produce oysters we joined a tradition that makes the TBOC the oldest continuously producing aquaculture facility of any kind in California.

Oscar’s heir had no interest in continuing the business and sold it to my company for an asset that we felt held promise but that needed a major renovation to become a commercial success. To make a long story short, my company raised money and expanded the oyster growing capacity several times, installed a wet holding system and its water supply system, created a cold storage facility and completely rebuilt the remnant of the working dock on the farm. Then we began operating to build up the business for a year or two but then other parts of my company’s farming business encountered financial difficulties and had no alternative but to liquidate the the mother company leaving the oyster company without any management to continue the business on behalf of the limited partnership investors. It was then that my friend Bill Wilson took over the company that was converted to stock company that operated for several years. Sometime during the early 90s, after the business began to show promise, Bill sold the company on behalf of the original investors to a retired fireman named Drew until he sold the farm to Charles “Tod” Friend in 2008, who was then a worker at the nearby Hog Island Oyster Company.  You could say that Tod was the last of a line of people who believed in and invested in the TBOC for over 100 years. All of them contributed to the business with hard work, investment, and adaptation to changing market conditions that make it the successful company that it is today.

On my first occasion to meet Tod on July 14th, the first thing I said was that I was very personally pleased that he turned the company into what I had hoped it might be. It just took much longer than I had expected. Tod and I spent about an hour walking about the property and reviewing all the changes that had been made over the years and how the business the business evolved from a wholesale producer shipping boxes of oysters to restaurants to one that also served a continually growing walk-in business that serves hundreds of customers every weekend to eat oysters as part of the sightseeing experience in the Pt. Reyes/Tomales Bay area. The TBOC also operates an oyster bar restaurant four miles north at Marshall that is operated by Tod’s children. At the end of my visit, Tod sent me off for lunch (great food!) in Marshall where I found they would not take payment for lunch because Tod instructed them to put it on his tab. I went on to the Hog Island Oyster Company for a discussion with John Finger and his head man, Erik about issues we expected to arise at the “best operating practices” meeting on Monday. When I left Hog Island, I was very happy that I met with Tod and John and had a good idea of what to expect on Monday. I was sure that I had made a much overdue new friend in Tod. We spoke the same language, are about the same age, and we both know what hard work it takes to grow oysters. Sharing that perspective, we shared a mutual affection for the TBOC.

Although I had the privilege of knowing him for only a few days, I feel that I knew him in a personal way that binds people with a mutual experience more closely than you might imagine. I saw Tod just once more as we both left the conference on Monday. We had more than a normal handshake, and we said a few words that expressed our amusement at the questions that came up at the meeting. His smiles and gestures confirmed for me that I had a new friend, but sadly that would last only another day before he was lost to us. As I drove a way, I said to myself “I forgot to thank him for the excellent lunch.”  Oh well, I’ll remember to do that the next time we met.

I can only express to his family and close friends my great sorrow for their loss. I knew him for only a few days but I knew he was a very special man. I wish we could share some more stories and laugh again together.

– Tony Schuur, CAA President