SARAH POLUS, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Shell collection delays and confusion over tax incentives have recently caused setbacks in the region's oyster shell recycling campaign.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation runs the "Save Oyster Shell" oyster-recycling program in the Maryland and Virginia watershed areas.
The program allows local restaurants and the public to donate oyster shells, which are reused to grow oyster larvae, and are then planted in the bay. There are four shell drop-off locations in Maryland: in Shady Side, Annapolis, Edgewater and Severna Park.
Douglas May, the owner of May's Restaurant in Frederick and a participant in the program, said that it's important to contribute, because the more businesses help the system, the better the chances are of having oysters to harvest and serve to hungry customers.
Last year, May petitioned the town to create a public oyster drop-off location at the Frederick town dump, and although the plan was approved about six months ago, May said no visible progress has been made.
May said summertime oyster shell collection wasn't ideal, attracting unwelcome flies. Having a collection site to dump the shells on a weekly basis would help eliminate this problem, as well as encourage others to participate, he said.
Bill Day, general manager at Annapolis Wine Bar, said although the restaurant has been involved in the program for three years, they haven't been participating lately. The wine bar normally receives containers from volunteers to store the shells before they're collected, but hasn't received any containers in more than a month.
According to Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokesman Karl Willey, the program has recently combined with the Oyster Recovery Partnership, which will now control restaurant participation. This transition period has caused some lags in collection efforts.
The foundation, due to a lack of proper funding, equipment and resources, joined forces with the partnership to deal with large-scale shell collection. Until now, the program has been mainly run on a volunteer basis, with the intention of giving people "a sense of ownership in helping to save the bay," Willey said.
While the foundation and the partnership both wish to continue to encourage public participation, collection operates on a county-by-county basis, so working through restrictions on collection can take a while.
Despite the lapse in collection efforts lately, Day thinks the program is "quite successful" in building oyster bars all over the bay. He will continue to participate in the program once he gets more collection bins, because he would rather use his leftover oyster shells to help regenerate the bay than waste them.
"It's a little extra work, but it's worth it," he said.
May said despite the setbacks, the program seems to be a success. "I think they're headed in the right direction, they just need to get more people on board to help." He cited the lag time in establishing a public dumping spot in Frederick as an example of the need for the community to rally behind the program.
According to Don Meritt, director of the Horn Point Hatchery, the recycling program contributes about 15,000 shells to the lab annually. "It's not the majority of the shell we use, but it's not an insignificant amount," Meritt said. He hopes to see the program continue to grow, and become a larger source of shell donation for the lab.
Willey anticipates that around the holiday season the amount of shells being donated by consumers will greatly increase, while restaurant donations tend to stay pretty consistent.
In April, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill that awards businesses that participate in shell recycling $1 per bushel tax credit, up to $750 a year. The bill went into effect July 1, according to Maryland Department of Energy Spokeswoman Samantha Kappalman.
However, according to Gina Hunt, the Department of Natural Resources' deputy director for fishery services, the tax-credit regulations aren't in place yet. Before the law can be implemented, the Maryland comptroller's office must develop regulations. Participants will still be able to claim tax credits on any shells recycled in 2013, Hunt said.
The current plan involves the Oyster Recovery Partnership, which originally spearheaded the bill, to act as the certification agent for participants, in order to help them become eligible for tax credits.
Hunt says the Department of Natural Resources is partnering with the Oyster Recovery Partnership to do certifications.
"We have to work with comptroller's office," Hunt said. "We've talked to them but we need everyone to sit in a room to hash out what really goes into the regulation."
Restaurant owner May said he had heard talk of the law, but had received no information how he could go about getting tax incentives for his shell recycling efforts.
Horn Point Lab hatches oysters to restore Chesapeake:
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