Recycling oyster shells could net restaurants a tax credit under proposed legislation

By: - January 24, 2023 12:01 am

Each recycled oyster shell can become home to more than 10 oysters (Kenny Fletcher / Chesapeake Bay Foundation)

Lawmakers voted to move forward with legislation to create a nonrefundable tax credit for oyster shell recycling this morning in subcommittee, citing a shared understanding that “oysters are good.”

The House Finance subcommittee voted 6-2 in favor of a bill from Del. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, that would give restaurants a $4 credit for every bushel of oyster shells they recycled with a limit of $1,500 per year. 

An identical version of the bill by Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, passed the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources unanimously last week.

The tax credit is meant to be an incentive for restaurants to keep oyster shells instead of throwing them away, said Anderson. The shells would then be collected by local nonprofits for restoration projects and aquaculture. 

With a tax credit on the books, “we think restaurants that are throwing these oyster shells in the trash will then just do the right thing,” Anderson said. The donated shells are “like free housing for oysters,” he said, since they can be used to build up reefs that baby oysters can cling to.

Dels. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, and Candi Mundon King, D-Prince William, both voted against the bill.

While Watts agreed that “oysters are good,” she said changing the tax code could reduce revenue available for other efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and “isn’t the way to provide the incentive.”

The original bill would have designated the Virginia Marine Resources Commission as a recipient of oyster shell donations, but an amendment was brought forward to remove the agency because officials concluded it would be unmanageable to process huge bins of shells dropped off at all of its locations, said Anderson. 

Instead, the tax credit will be linked to donations made to local nonprofit organizations, including the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Oyster shells “can go to restoration projects in any part of the state,” said Chris Moore, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in an interview. “They could go to aquaculture, they could go to the wild harvest fishery if they wanted to, it just kind of depends on who’s using that shell, who’s collected and things like that.” 

Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are a critical component of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, as they provide benefits like food and habitat for aquatic life, while also filtering out pollutants from water. 

The credits would be capped at $250,000 each year, which Anderson called a “starting point” to get restaurants to create an operating policy for recycling the shells.

“All we want are the restaurants to have a bucket in their back kitchen when they’re cleaning the plates just to throw the oyster shells in,” Anderson said.

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Meghan McIntyre

Mercury intern Meghan McIntyre is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in digital journalism. She has stories covering Virginia government and politics published in various outlets across the state through Capital News Service, a course in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at VCU. She was also a previous news intern at VPM and briefly freelanced for The Farmville Herald and The Suffolk News-Herald. She can be reached at [email protected]

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