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Md. passes tax credit for recycling oyster shells

Maryland lawmakers have passed a “No Shell Left Behind” oyster recycling tax credit that supporters hope will provide more of the empty shells needed by hatcheries to replenish the oyster population.

The bill provides a dollar a bushel tax credit for recycled oyster shells, up to $750 a year.

“Recycled oyster shell is a necessary component for oyster restoration here in Maryland, so no shell should end up in a landfill,” said Stephan Abel, executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, who testified in favor of the bill during the General Assembly session that ended Monday. Abel made the remarks Tuesday.

The group organizes a recycling effort involving restaurants, wholesalers and others. The 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.

North Carolina has a similar $1-a-bushel credit, according to an analysis prepared for lawmakers. The Department of Natural Resources also supported the measure, which takes effect July 1.

A University of Maryland researcher also testified that the credit would help educate the public about the need to recycle shells.

The Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population has dropped to less than 1 percent of historic levels despite decades of restoration that has included planting hatchery-grown spat in sanctuary areas. However, the harvest this winter has been among the best in decades.