A bill to give tax credits to restaurants and other businesses to recycle oyster shells advanced Tuesday after a unanimous vote by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.
The bill offers a $4 tax credit per bushel of shells with a $1,500 cap per person.
The bill was referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. It still needs to be passed by both the House and Senate, then goes to Gov. Glenn Youngkin to be signed.
“Many dedicated Virginia restaurants and businesses are already recycling shells and donating them to restoration programs,” said Julie Luecke, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Oyster Restoration specialist. “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.”
The credit will make a difference as many restaurants are still recovering from financial losses during the pandemic, said Todd Jurich, owner of Todd Jurich’s Bistro in Norfolk.
Jurich began recycling shells about five years ago through a CBF program to reuse the shells to grow new oysters. His restaurant goes through about 500 oysters a week.
“There is a cost to everything, storage and time to sort out the shells, but it is worth it,” he said. “I’ve had oysters from California to France. I am a chef and I eat, and the Chesapeake Bay does world-class oysters.”
Outside of tasting delicious, oysters are significant to the bay because they filter the water and help create habitats for other species like fish and crabs.
Baby oysters, or spat, love to grow on hard surfaces, one of the best places is the shell of another oyster. Old shells are used to build reefs and spat-on-shells are planted to increase oyster numbers. Each recycled shell can home more than 10 oysters, and restoration groups have had to purchase shells. Shortages have driven up the price. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission will take the recycled shells to use for projects or the shells can be given to a nonprofit working in oyster restoration.
Programs like CBF pick up the shells from restaurants and businesses, then clean and cure shells.
Residents don’t get a tax credit for recycling shells, but there are several drop-off sites across Hampton Roads.
CBF is working to add 10 billion oysters to the bay by 2025.
Everett Eaton, 262-902-7896, firstname.lastname@example.org