Students from West End Secondary School (WESS), a public middle school at 227 West 61st Street, went to the State Capitol this week to speak in favor of a bill sponsored by local Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal.

The bill would “establish an oyster shell recycling tax credit, incentivizing restaurant owners to save shells and help reintroduce them into local waterways.”

“This is an important bill because it is part of the stepping stones for making New York Harbor clean again,” said WESS 7th grader, Sam Leschins, in a statement put out by Rosenthal’s office.

Rosenthal sent more info on the bill:

Oysters play a critical role in the ecology of many waterways, and oyster regeneration occurs most effectively within empty oyster shells. The Hudson River estuary, which served as the inspiration for this bill, has been decimated in recent years by sewage and other pollutants, and a thriving oyster population would help to better filter the Hudson and other waterways statewide.

This bill will provide a tax credit of $0.10 for each pound of oyster shells recycled during the tax year up to $1,000 per tax year. Already, nearly 60 restaurants within New York City participate in oyster shell recycling programs, and the goal of this legislation is to add increased incentive to restaurant owners statewide. Maryland and North Carolina already have legislation in place to incentivize oyster shell recycling.

“The waters of the Hudson River used to teem with vibrant underwater life. For many years, a lynchpin of this submerged world was a thriving oyster population,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Through decades of unchecked pollution, we lost tens of thousands of oysters, and the river lost its most dependable water filtration team. With the incredible work of the WESS students, whose school is just a block from the Hudson, we are working to revitalize the oyster population and chart a new course for our great river.”

Photos via Rosenthal’s office.

NEWS, OUTDOORS, SCHOOLS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. EricaC says:

      That is pretty clever – well done kids!

      It is hard to believe that NY Harbor used to be so full of oysters that people went down to the shore and grabbed them when they were hungry, and oysters used to be a poor man’s food. But apparently it is all true.

    2. Wendy says:

      Bon appetit ! Oyster shells I threw into the Chickens’ area; chez a family farm in France — nearby which I shoulda grown up in ; & NOT have been sorta kidnapped away from; &, later, sorta thrown away from n.b. a book @ Oysters in N.Y.C.; history of. Save the small farms, & small fisheries of New England, also. How @ stopping the LOUD musics inside some shops of U.W.S. ?

    3. JR says:

      “Through decades of unchecked pollution, we lost tens of thousands of oysters, and the river lost its most dependable water filtration team.”

      It was actually tens of millions. NY Harbor was the oyster capital of the world until pollution killed them off. There were so many that they filtered all of the water in NY harbor every few hours. They were so big back in the day that they had to be eaten with a knife and fork. They were a primary food source for the local native Americans and when European settlers first arrived they found child piles (more like hills) of discarded oyster shells. The shells were ground up to make the asphalt for the first paved roads in NYC. Oysters became the main sustenance of the NYC poor for a long time. Read “The Big Oyster” for a fascinating look at the intertwining history of oysters and NYC.

      • B.B. says:

        When first Europeans arrived in the New World rich oyster beds were found up and down the eastern seaboard. From about MA or Conn right down through Maryland.

        Here in New York it wasn’t just the harbor, but Jamaica Bay, around Staten Island and elsewhere had rich and deep oyster beds.

        Everyone loved oysters back then; the rich because of the perceived delicacy, and the poor because the things were cheap eats. Shells were indeed ground to make the first street coverings. Pearl Street is named so because it was paved with asphalt made from oyster shells. Oyster shells were also burned to create lime which was used for building.

        Three things killed oysters in New York; over fishing, loss of habitat, and finally pollution. The latter was not only the fact raw sewage being dumped into NYC waterways, but the fact by 1920’s the DOH was becoming worried about illness (specifically cholera and typhoid) caused by eating oysters from contaminated water.

        Jamaica Bay was the first place to have oyster fishing banned, and in a few years that took effect citywide.



    4. LadyBug says:

      I must be missing something. Since when do empty shells filter water? Don’t you need an oyster that’s alive and well?

      • JR says:

        the empty shells help to propagate new oyster growth.

      • CR says:

        In order to propagate, oysters need to cling or attach to something — the empty shells will serve this purpose.

      • Ira Gershenhorn says:

        No. You probably didn’t miss anything. I do not think it was said that baby oysters (called spat) like to grow on oyster shells or similar (that is the reason the old porcelain toilets from NYC public schools were dumped in Jamaica Bay). If it was said, I’ve just said it again. Bottom line, more oyster shells in the river mean its more likely there will be more oysters in the river.

      • Ed says:

        Need shells to start new reefs

    5. CR says:

      Why couldn’t we simply make restaurant owners participate in this effort and do their share in saving the Hudson and the environment without compensation? Why do we always think we can only get things done when there is money involved — and not from the goodness of peoples’ hearts?

      • Michael G says:

        CR: What would a legal mandate have to do with the good or bad hearts of business owners? Also, money would still be involved, since the state would have to hire an inspector.

        But it’s fun to imagine this new improved version of the bill: “All oysters will be recycled in a manner that suggests the responsible party really means it, or otherwise the same shells will be re-recycled up to but no more than five times pending the satisfaction of the Shell Inspection Representative, or ‘SIR’.”

    6. Janet David says:

      Great – These kids are the future citizens and are impressive

    7. Ira Gershenhorn says:

      Maryland has had an oyster shell recycling tax credit since April 2013. NYS is just getting around to this over 4 years later.

    8. Jen says:

      That is just wonderful. I would like to thank everyone involved in this effort.

    9. MaryDowns says:

      Earlier this week, NYT reported the passing of Robert Boyle, an “unofficial guardian of the Hudson River… a crusading conservationist and a founder of a widely replicated watchdog group called Riverkeeper”. How heartening to read, so soon after that news, that the next generation has already picked up the torch – well done WESS!

    10. HLM says:

      I’m not sure we want to encourage oyster consumption for adolescents…

    11. agr says:

      There is a reason a full street way downtown in original New Amsterdam is named PEARL street