Restaurants and other businesses that recycle oyster shells to restore oyster populations would receive a tax credit under legislation that passed a Virginia Senate committee today. Businesses would receive a $4 tax credit for each bushel of oyster shells recycled, up to $1,500, under bills introduced by Sen. Monty Mason (S.B. 997) and Del. Tim Anderson (H.B. 1438). This afternoon, the Senate version of the bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) urges legislators to support these proposals in order to boost the tight supply of oyster shells, which challenges large-scale oyster restoration work. While a growing number of restaurants recycle oyster shells, far too many shells still end up in landfills.
“Oyster shells are a limited resource that are key to increasing the Chesapeake’s oyster population, supporting the wild oyster fishery, and assisting aquaculture operations,” said CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration Specialist Julie Luecke. “Many dedicated Virginia restaurants and businesses are already recycling shells and donating them to restoration programs. A tax credit would benefit these restaurants for their hard work and provide an important incentive to new businesses to increase the supply of oyster shells.”
Baby oysters, called spat, must attach to a hard surface such as empty oyster shells. One shell can become home to 10 or more oysters. In oyster restoration work, these spat-on-shell oysters are planted on sanctuary oyster reefs to increase oyster populations. Oyster shells are also used to construct the base of oyster reefs.
Recycled oyster shell is also extremely important to Virginia’s oyster replenishment program, which supports the wild oyster fishery by placing shell in state-managed public waters for oysters to grow and eventually be harvested. Additionally, recycled shells are used by the Commonwealth’s growing oyster aquaculture industry.
While oyster populations are rebounding, the limited supply of oyster shell has driven up the cost of this important resource. To help increase the supply, several volunteer-based shell recycling programs pick up empty oyster shells from restaurants, oyster roasts, and other businesses. These shells are then cleaned, cured, and prepared for planting on oyster reefs. Oyster reefs filter water and provide habitat for fish, crabs, and other species vital to the fishing and seafood industries.
Under the legislation, entities such as the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and nonprofits engaged in oyster restoration activities would receive the oyster shells and use them for restoration purposes. Businesses that are paid for shell would not be eligible for the tax credit.
This tax credit would provide an important benefit to restaurants and other businesses doing their part to increase the local oyster population.
Todd Jurich’s Bistro in Norfolk recycles the restaurant’s oyster shells for restoration work.
“Recycling oyster shells costs us some money due to the time, space, and labor involved. But we’ve always been proponents of taking care of the Chesapeake Bay,” said restaurant owner Todd Jurich. “The oyster shell tax credit proposal couldn’t have come at a better time. It has really been tough for restaurant businesses recently due to COVID, inflation, and labor shortages. This would help the restaurant community and encourage new businesses to recycle shells.”
Several Virginia organizations conduct oyster shell recycling programs. CBF’s Virginia shell recycling program includes nearly 40 restaurants across Virginia. People with oyster shells left over from meals at home and oyster roasts can also drop them off at one of CBF’s 17 shell recycling bins across Tidewater and Central Virginia.
Restaurants participating in CBF’s program qualify to become part of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance’s Reef Builders network, supporting efforts to add 10 billion oysters to the Bay by 2025. A robust supply of recycled oyster shell is key to meeting that goal.