Oyster Resource User Fees

Note: effective 8/31/16 the user fees for public oyster harvest were put under a limited entry program. See Section 4 VAC 20-720-15. Control Date, License Moratorium, Transferability and Agents in Regulation 4 VAC 20-720 "PERTAINING TO RESTRICTIONS ON OYSTER HARVEST". Contact Jamie Hogge (jamie.hogge@mrc.virginia.gov; 757-247-2120) for questions on public harvest user fee transfer.


Effective July 1, 2013 the antiquated Virginia oyster taxes have been repealed and will no longer have to be paid.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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Q. Where Do I Pay My Oyster Resource User Fee?

A. These user fees may be paid by mail to the Marine Resources Commission, in person at agency headquarters, or at any of the agency’s licensing agents. They cannot be paid at the Marine Police Operations Center in Newport News. Also, you should know that oyster gear licenses will no longer be sold at the Operations Center.
Shucking houses must pay their user fees at the agency’s headquarters or Heathsville office, either in person or by mail, and cannot pay them through licensing agents because these user fees can be as high as $4,000 (depending on the quantities of oysters handled).

Q. What if I Don’t Pay My Oyster Resource User Fee?

A. You will not be allowed to grow, harvest, shuck, pack or ship harvest oysters for commercial purposes until your annual user fee is paid for a calendar year. 
If you harvest oysters anyway, please keep in mind that failure to pay the user fee is a Class 1 misdemeanor under the oyster resource user fee law, punishable by up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine and administrative sanctions.

Q: I went to my license agent and they did not know what licenses to sell. What licenses should I tell them I need?

A: Well, we hope this does not happen, since we work to ensure our agents are aware of upcoming license changes. If it happens, here are the specific license codes, license names and license or user fees sold in our licensing system:

For Oyster Harvesters:


For Shucking Houses:

For Single Place of Business (POB) with Single Boat or Truck Public Oyster Buyers:

For Single POB Public Oyster Buyers with Multiple Boats or Trucks:

Q: I have a regular seafood buyer license. Can I buy oysters from a harvester with this license?

A: No, your regular buyers licenses are only for seafood other than oysters and will still be needed if you buy other types of seafood. The new law sets up a specific set of licenses and user fees for buyers of oysters. Please see the licenses list immediately above for the new buyer user fees and licenses. The single Place of Business/BOAT/TRUCK buyer's license is for any single place of business with no more than one buy boat or buy truck (single buyer can have one of each). For each boat or truck with documentation that it is properly authorized we will also issue a no cost 414 OYSTER BUYER IDENTIFIER PERMIT for each boat or truck associated with the oyster buyer license, so for a single oyster buyer - the licensee may have up to four privileges issued (the $100 user fee, the $50 oyster single buyer license, and one no-cost permit for each boat or truck used by the business); for the no cost permits, the buyer will need to provide the VIN of the buying truck or the USCG Document Number of the boat or vessel used for buying. 

Multiple Oyster Buyer licensees need to buy the multiple buyer user fee and buyer license, but then for all boats or trucks associated with the single place of business obtain the no-cost permits that will document the VINs of the buying truck(s), and the USCG Document Numbers of the boat(s) used for buying. If there are any oyster buyers that have more than one place of business, they only need to pay the multiple buyer user fee once, but then they will need one of the new oyster buyers licenses and associated identifier permits for each of their places of business.

Q: I can pay the new oyster resource user fee or oyster gear license by mail, right? Where do I send the check?

A: Yes. Send your check or money order to VMRC, Building 96, 380 Fenwick Road, Ft. Monroe, VA 23651. Write Attention Licensing on the envelope.

Do not send cash through the mail. Be sure to include the type of user fee and license you need, your VMRC identification number that you need to purchase the licenses under and any new address or contact data. For oyster buyers licenses we also need you to include the Business Name for the Place of Business (POB), the state Vehicle Identification Number of the buying truck, and the U.S. Coast Guard Document Number of the boat or vessel used for buying. (We will use these identifying pieces of information to issue the no-cost OYSTER BUYER IDENTIFIER PERMIT that is needed for each POB/Boat/Truck used by the oyster buyer).

Q: Do I still send in my VMRC 453/455/457 monthly reports?

A: Only for harvests through June 30, 2013. These final oyster tax reports and taxes should be submitted by July 5, 2013. After July 1, 2013, this new legislation eliminates the oyster tax system. As a result, oyster buyers no longer have to file the VMRC 450 series harvest reports that were used to calculate taxes. This is important: Harvest reports are still required. Nothing about oyster harvest reporting has changed. Public ground oyster harvesters still need to submit their daily harvests on a monthly basis on the Commission's standard mandatory reporting forms. Similarly, daily oyster harvests from riparian, fee simple or private leased ground must be reported in the mandatory reporting program by the licensee responsible for reporting on a specific lease or private ground (the person holding the oyster aquaculture product owner license that is associated with the specific private ground). 

Q: I work both public and private grounds. Do I have to pay two oyster resource user fees?

A: Yes, you do need to pay two user fees, one for working on public ground and the other for working in private ground. User fee types 378, 379 are for public harvesting and user fee type 387 is for private ground harvesting. Note that for private ground harvesting, only the oyster aquaculture product owner permittee has to pay the associated 387 user fee. Oyster product owner permittees also may have no-cost vessel permits but separate user fees are not needed for these vessel permits or for oyster aquaculture harvester permittees.

Q: I paid my oyster resource user fee a while back, but when I went to buy my oyster gear license from an agent they said it was not paid and would not let me buy the gear license. What do I do?

A: The likely reason for this is that you paid the user fee under one VMRC identification number and then tried to buy your gear license under a different VMRC identification number. You must buy your oyster gear license under the same identification number as was used to pay your user fee.
Most commercial harvester should not have duplicate identities in our licensing system, but if you think this has happened please report the situation to Jeanne.Baaklini@mrc.virginia.gov or call her at 757-247-2127.

Q: I just got my Commercial Registration License (CRL) and it says “Not authorized to harvest oysters until oyster resource harvester user fee and oyster harvest gear license fees have been paid, failure to pay appropriate user and license fee is a Class 1 misdemeanor, up to $2,500 fine or one year in jail.” What's that about?

A: This is just fair notice to all commercial watermen that they must pay this new oyster resource user fee and buy the correct harvest gear license before they are allowed to harvest oysters. When the Marine Police do their inspections they will look for the license system documents that show the person harvesting oysters has paid all the applicable fees.

Q: I went to an agent to pay my 378 PUBLIC OYSTER BY HAND ONLY USER FEE, but the agent was not able to sell me one. Why not?

A: The hand harvest user fee only applies to harvesters that harvest oyster commercially by hand from public grounds. The only intertidal public grounds are on the Eastern Shore. For this reason only prior licensed hand harvesters from the Eastern Shore have been authorized in the license system to pay this specific user fee. If you are harvesting in these areas and you have not been authorized to pay this user fee please contact Andrew Button (andrew.button@mrc.virginia.gov; 757-247-2121) or Jamie Hogge (Jamie.Hogge@mrc.virginia.gov; 757-247-2120) to request an authorization for this user fee type. 

Q: I work on a boat that dredges and scrapes on public grounds, I have a Commercial Registration License but the dredge and scrape license are in the captain’s name, do I need to pay a oyster resource user fee?

A: Yes, each harvester who is entitled to a daily quota in the hand scrape and dredge public fisheries must pay a user fee. Workers who only cull the catch, but do not keep any portion of a daily quota, do not have to pay the user fee.

Q: I still don’t understand something about these new oyster resource user fees. Who do I contact for more information?

A: The following fisheries staff will be able to help you with any question:

Oyster Resource User Fee Staff Contacts Phone Number Email Address
Andrew Button, Head of Oyster Conservation and Replenishment Department  (757) 247-2121  andrew.button@mrc.virginia.gov
Jamie Hogge, Conservation and Replenishment Department (757) 247-2120  Jamie.Hogge@mrc.virginia.gov
Rob O’Reilly, Chief, Fisheries Management Division  (757) 247-2247  rob.oreilly@mrc.virginia.gov


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