ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill that would further incentivize oyster shell recycling.
“This bill continues to promote a very viable shell recovery program that’s been in existence for five years,” said Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s, the bill’s chief sponsor.
The Shell Recycling Alliance (SRA), an Oyster Recovery Partnership program, picks up discarded shell from restaurants and seafood distributors in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia.
Scientists have determined that native oyster shell is the best material to construct man-made reefs, which in turn are covered in spat — baby oysters — and become self-sustaining.
SRA employees drive trucks around collecting barrels of stinky shells from restaurants, recording how much shell each establishment saved. The program totals the amount of bushels each restaurant recycled at the end of each year, creating a tax credit certificate.
Before this legislation, each restaurant could earn $5 per bushel against its state income tax, for up to 150 bushels — or $750. Senate Bill 153 doubles the maximum allowable credit to $1,500 per year.
“What we found out in talking to the Oyster Recovery Partnership, that not enough restaurants were going through the process for only a $750 tax credit,” Hershey said. “If the amount were a little bit higher they’d go through the effort to go in and claim that tax credit, which obviously means they would provide more shells as well.”
Scott Herbst, the owner of Sailor Oyster Bar in Annapolis, said that it’s a win-win when considering the tax credit and shell recycling’s greater impact on the bay.
“Any sort of tax break for a small business is beneficial,” Herbst said. “Every penny counts.”
Hershey’s bill also makes the previously temporary program permanent. More restaurants supplying a steady stream of shell could be very beneficial for the Chesapeake.
“This tax credit is a win-win-win for everyone — restaurants benefit, oyster producers benefit and ultimately the Bay benefits,” Oyster Recovery Partnership spokeswoman Karis King wrote in an email to the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.
The shell recycling program recycled 33,400 bushels — or 1,169 tons — of shell from 340 establishments throughout the Bay region in 2017, according to a Recovery Partnership press release.
Last year’s 33,400-bushel effort was the Shell Recycling Alliance’s record. But it’s still short of the demand required for large-scale oyster restoration.
“The bottom line is that oyster shells are in critically short supply,” said Tom Price, operations manager for the alliance.
A healthy oyster reef can filter billions of gallons of water and provide habitat for some of the bay’s keystone species, like blue crabs.