Effective July 1, 2013 the antiquated Virginia oyster taxes have been repealed and will no longer have to be paid. The oyster tax forms will no longer have to be filled out (although the mandatory harvest reports by harvesters remain mandatory).
Instead, oyster industry participants will pay an annual resource user fee.
This is required under a bill, House Bill 1400, which was passed unanimously in the 2013 Virginia General Assembly Session at the unanimous request of an 11-member industry panel that represented all facets of the industry. The Panel's report can be found here.
The revenue collected from these annual user fees will be used for the Oyster Replenishment Program, as required by the new law. The industry panel that recommended the new law recognized the importance of oyster replenishment to the health of the entire oyster industry and considered the user fees to be an industry investment in its future.
The Oyster Replenishment Program provides many services for the industry. Oyster replenishment on public oyster grounds involves the spreading of oyster shells on state-owned water bottoms to provide habitat so naturally occurring larvae can attach to the shells during spawning and form new adult oysters that will reach market size in roughly three years.
The program also provides training and support for the growing oyster aquaculture industry, and monitors oyster populations throughout the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and the coastal bays of the Eastern Shore.
Every $1 spent on oyster replenishment yields $7 in economic benefits in the form of larger harvests, and increased jobs for oyster shuckers and oyster packing houses.
The bill establishes the following annual user fee schedule:
• Hand harvesters on public oyster grounds will pay a user fee of $50 a year if they only harvest by hand.
• Non-hand harvesting oyster gear users on public oyster grounds will pay a user fee of $300 a year. Only one gear user fee will be paid, regardless of how many different types of licensed oyster gear are used.
• Any commercial oyster aquaculture operation taking oysters from riparian, fee-simple or privately leased ground will pay a user fee of $50 a year (the oyster aquaculture product owner permittee Is responsible for the $50 user fee for private ground aquaculture operations that includes harvest).
• Harvesters who work on both public and private ground will pay both the aquaculture and gear (or hand) harvest user fees each year.
• Oyster shucking and packing houses will pay a user fee ranging from $500 and $4,000 a year, depending on the size of their operation.
• Oyster buyers will pay a user fee of $100 for a single truck or location, and will pay $300 for buyers with multiple trucks or locations. Also, new oyster buyer licenses will be required. They are in addition to the long-issued seafood buyer licenses.
These user fees apply to anyone who harvests, attempts to harvest, or who participates in the harvest of oysters for commercial purposes, whether the gear license is in their name or not.
As always, all harvests must be reported to the agency.
This reform of the oyster tax system takes effect July 1, 2013. At that point, industry participants no longer will pay oyster taxes but they must pay their user fee before harvesting any oysters. Failure to pay the user fee is a Class 1 misdemeanor under the new law, punishable by up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine and administrative sanctions.
Q. What is this all about?
A. At the unanimous recommendation of an oyster industry panel, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously decided to reform the oyster tax system that has been in place for decades. The two oyster taxes were a paperwork hassle for harvesters, resulted in incomplete reporting of harvests, and didn’t raise much money. They were repealed. As a result, harvesters will no longer have to pay oyster tax or file oyster tax paperwork.
Instead, the General Assembly established annual user fees on everyone who grows or harvests oysters for commercial purposes. The revenue raised from these fees will be used in the Marine Resources Commission’s Oyster Replenishment Program, which benefits the oyster industry as a whole.
Q. Who Needs to Pay a Oyster Resource User Fee?
A. Anyone who grows, harvests, shucks, packs or ships oysters for commercial purposes must pay a oyster resource user fee every year. User fees do not apply to oyster gardeners, meaning those people who raise oysters for non-commercial purposes. Oyster aquaculture harvester permittees do not have to pay the user fee since the oyster aquaculture product owner permittee is responsible for the private ground user fee. User fees payments must be made under the VMRC identification number (MRC ID) used to buy individual oyster licenses.
Q: I already bought my oyster license and paid my oyster taxes this year. Shouldn’t that be deducted from my user fee?
A: Sorry, but that isn’t permitted. When the General Assembly passed the oyster resource user fee bill, it did not enact a provision to allow other fees and/or taxes that were paid to be credited towards the payment of the new oyster resource user fee.
Q. When Do I Need to Pay My Oyster Resource User Fee?
A. As of the recent Commission meeting on April 25, 2017, oyster resource user fees for any harvester using one or more gear types to harvest oysters must be paid in the calendar year before an individual can harvest oysters in that same calendar year. Starting this year, 2017, the public oyster resource user fee ($300) must be paid every calendar year in order to maintain eligibility. Only individuals who paid the oyster resource user fee described in § 28.2-541(A)(ii) of the Code of Virginia in any year, from 2013 through 2016, may pay that fee in 2017. In any year following 2017, eligibility to pay the oyster resource user fee shall be limited to those individuals who paid the oyster resource user fee for harvest of oysters from public ground in the previous year.
|Oyster Resource User Fee Staff Contacts||Phone Number||Email Address|
|Andrew Button, Head of Oyster Conservation and Replenishment Department||(757) firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Jamie Hogge, Conservation and Replenishment Department||(757) 247-2120||Jamie.Hogge@mrc.virginia.gov|
|Rob O’Reilly, Chief, Fisheries Management Division||(757) email@example.com|