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Restaurants could get tax credits for recycling oyster shells

A bill to give restaurants and other businesses tax credits to recycle oyster shells moved forward Tuesday after a unanimous vote by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

The bill provides a tax credit of $4 per bushel of shells capped at $1,500 per person.

The bill was referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. It still must be approved by both the House and the Senate, then it goes to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for his signature.

“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 a significant incentive for new businesses to increase the supply of oyster shells.”

The credit will make a difference, as many restaurants are still reeling from financial losses during the pandemic, said Todd Jurich, owner of Todd Jurich’s Bistro in Norfolk.

Jurich started recycling shells about five years ago through a CBF program to reuse the shells to grow new oysters. His restaurant consumes about 500 oysters a week.

“Everything has a cost, the storage and the time to sort the shells, but it’s worth it,” he said. “I have eaten oysters from California to France. I’m a chef and I eat, and the Chesapeake Bay makes world-class oysters.”

In addition to tasting delicious, oysters are important to the bay because they filter the water and help create habitats for other species like fish and crabs.

Baby, or spit, oysters love to grow on hard surfaces, one of the best places being the shell of another oyster. Old shells are used to build reefs, and shells are planted to increase oyster numbers. Each recycled shell can hold more than 10 oysters, and restoration groups have had to purchase shells. The scarcity has pushed up the price. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission will take the recycled shells for use in projects or the shells can be given to a non-profit organization that works in oyster restoration.

Programs like CBF collect the shells from restaurants and businesses, then clean and cure the shells.

Residents don’t get a tax credit for recycling shells, but there are several drop-off sites in Hampton Roads.

CBF is working to add 10 billion oysters to the bay by 2025.

Everett Eaton, 262-902-7896, everett.eaton@virginiamedia.com

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