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After you eat an oyster at Todd Jurich’s Bistro in downtown Norfolk, restaurant staff toss what’s left on the plate into a plastic bucket stored in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator. 

Then, once a week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation stops by to pick up hundreds of shells.

The nonprofit and other local environmental groups clean and cure the old oyster shells, then use them to build new reefs on which baby oysters can grow.

A proposed Virginia law would reward those who donate recycled oyster shells for this purpose. 

Virginia Beach Republican Del. Tim Anderson and Williamsburg Democratic Sen. Monty Mason want to give tax credits to restaurants like Todd Jurich’s that do it.

Their companion bills stipulate the credits would only apply to people who donate, not sell, the shells to a restoration nonprofit or the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. 

The law would last through 2027 and could give businesses up to $1,500 per year — $4 per bushel of oyster shells.

bucket sized
Photo courtesy of Todd Jurich 

Recycled oyster shells in Todd Jurich's Bistro's walk-in, awaiting pickup by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Todd Jurich’s has been recycling the shells for years, along with dozens of other restaurants around the state.

Jurich — the bistro’s owner and namesake — said he lives on the Chesapeake Bay and has witnessed restoration work transform it in recent years.

“It used to be not more than five or so years ago, you couldn’t even eat an oyster out of Lynnhaven Inlet,” he said. “So it’s really good to see them cleaning it up. And I’d like for it to continue.”

He said it would be nice to be reimbursed for doing the work. It would also be a nice boost for local restaurants after coming out of the pandemic.

The Bay foundation, which is pushing for the bills in the General Assembly, hopes the tax credits will incentivize others to start recycling their shells.

“Oyster shells are a limited resource that are key to increasing the Chesapeake’s oyster population, supporting the wild oyster fishery and assisting aquaculture operations,” Virginia oyster restoration specialist Julie Luecke said in a statement.

Oyster populations are slowly rebounding, the foundation said, but a limited supply has driven up the cost of shells.

The nonprofit and others doing local restoration work are part of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, a coalition that aims to add 10 billion oysters to the bay by 2025. 

Each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water each day.

The goal is meant in part to help states in the Chesapeake watershed meet federal pollution reduction targets the same year.