Oyster Recycling

Only 10% of our local oyster shells get recycled back into our waterways

Why does this matter?

Our oysters are substrate limited. This means that our oyster population growth is limited by the amount of oyster shell available in the waterways. Baby oysters, also known as spat, need a hard, shell-like surface to attach to, so they are not smothered by pluff mud. When this lack of recycled shell is combined with larger environmental and water quality changes, development pressures and unsustainable oyster harvesting practices, we begin to understand the reasons we now have a declining wild oyster population in South Carolina. Reference this website as a guide to ensure you enjoy these delicious bivalves responsibly.

Harvesting Your Own Oysters – Best Practices

So, you’re interested in harvesting your own oysters? Think they taste better knowing you, individually, hand-selected your own clusters? I don’t blame you. Here are a few key rules to know before you go!

  1. Check the SCDNR  AND SCDHEC shellfish maps to ensure you are harvesting in a non-polluted, open waters
  2. Buy a saltwater fishing license – Money from these licenses goes back into restoring and conserving our marine resources.
  3. Cull in place – Bring the proper equipment to break off any dead shells and smaller oysters from your clusters keeping only the larger oysters. They will provide habitat for future oysters to grow.
  4. Know your limits – Two bushels of oysters per person per day, limited to two calendar days per seven-day period. One bushel is equal to 8 gallons. There is a maximum possession of three personal limits per boat or vehicle.
  5. Last but definitely not least, recycle your shell so we can enjoy oysters next year! SCDNR restores and enhances our South Carolina waterways with the recycled shell. (Sign up here to get emails on our volunteer days with SCDNR’s oyster team!)

Doing your part – Recycling Your Oyster Shell

You’re done with your backyard oyster roast, and you’ve heard about the importance of the shell going back into our waterways to create habitat for future oysters to grow. So, you’re going to go to your closest waterway and dump the shell yourself, right? Wrong! This is illegal and can harm local oysters by spreading diseases.

While we think we may know where and how to place these oyster shells in our creeks, it’s best to leave that to the biologists. Recycle your shell at one of these SCDNR oyster shell recycling locations. Biologists will quarantine your shell to prevent the spread of any diseases, and then the shell will be replanted on our shorelines to ensure the maximum benefit not only for our future oysters but for our shorelines as well. We encourage all oyster eating enthusiasts, oyster roasters, and restaurants to recycle their shell, so we can continue to enjoy this Lowcountry resource for future generations.

What if I prefer to eat my oysters at a restaurant?

Be an informed consumer by asking your local restaurant if they recycle their oyster shells—applauding them if they do and encouraging them to do so if they don’t. You can also view a current list of participating restaurants here.

Getting involved

Add your name to the list if you are interested in receiving the Conservation League’s communications related to marine resources.


Oyster shells sell for top dollar as biologists scramble to protect shellfish beds (The State, August 2022)

Eat oysters responsibly (Charleston Grit, November 2021)

South Carolinians aren’t recycling oysters and only 1 restaurant in Myrtle Beach is — Here’s how much it’s costing the state (WBTW News 13, October 2021)

SC officials urge recycling of oyster shells as shellfish season gets underway (Post and Courier, September 2021)

Along South Carolina’s Oyster-Loving Coast, Shell Recycling Offers a Glimpse of the Future (Pew Charitable Trusts, August 2021)

In South Carolina, Oyster Shell Recycling Helps Rebuild Reefs With Many Benefits (Pew Charitable Trusts, November 2020)


Have questions? Feel free to reach out to us at 843.972.3484 to see how you can get involved in the process.


Staff Contact

Rachel Hawes · [email protected] · 843.972.3484

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