A "No Shell Left Behind" bill before Maryland lawmakers would provide a dollar a bushel tax credit for recycled oyster shell, a move one conservation group hopes will increase supply of the empty bivalves needed by hatcheries.
"No shell should end up in a landfill," said Stephan Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, who testified on the bill Tuesday before the House Ways and Means committee.
The partnership organizes a shell recycling effort involving restaurants, wholesalers and others. Oyster shells are needed for restoration efforts because young oysters raised in hatcheries prefer to attach to adult oyster shells, which are in short supply.
Each adult shell can host up to 10 young oysters, known as spat, according to the partnership, which says it has recycled more than 1,200 tons of shell since 2009. However, that amount is only about 15 percent of the state's annual needs.
The bill would cap the nonrefundable tax credit at $750 a year and would take effect July 1. An analysis of the bill prepared for state lawmakers found it would cost the state about $106,000 in start-up costs in fiscal 2014 and decrease tax revenues about $50,000. North Carolina has a similar $1 a bushel credit, according to the analysis.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman Josh Davidsburg said the department supports the legislation.
The Chesapeake Bay's oyster population is at less that 1 percent of historic levels despite decades of restoration efforts that have included planting hatchery-grown spat in sanctuary areas. However, the harvest this winter has been among the best in decades.
Delegate Stephen W. Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, is sponsoring the bill and said recycled shell is an urgent need for Maryland's large-scale oyster restoration efforts.
Ken Paynter, director of the Marine, Estuarine, Environmental Sciences Program at the University of Maryland, College Park, told the committee that the credit would also help educate the public about the need for oyster shells.
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