HIGHLANDS, N.J. (WCBS 880/AP) – Oysters can now be raised in the polluted waters off New Jersey’s shore.

State officials said Monday that the NY/NJ Baykeeper can go ahead with plans to establish an oyster colony at a protected pier at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Monmouth County.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said they stopped the project last year because the Food and Drug Administration feared poachers would steal the oysters and sell them and potentially make people sick.

“Oyster research projects like these that were in restricted or contaminated waters were also subject to poaching,” said Ragonese.

But thanks to the Navy, the research can now begin.

“With the help of the Navy and cooperation of the FDA, we can now allow the Baykeeper’s research on oysters to continue and their potential benefits to the estuary’s ecology and water quality to be scientifically explored,” said DEP Commissioner Robert Martin.

The project will look at how oysters could filter dirty water off the coast.

“If we can find a natural way to filter the waters, to have shellfish do some of the work for us to remove pollutants in the waters, that’s a great thing,” said Ragonese. “We’re as interested in the results of the research as anyone.”

Debbie Mans, executive director of Baykeeper, also praised the decision.

“It is great to have oysters back in the water in the Raritan Bay, where they once flourished but are now functionally extinct,” she said “Baykeeper’s long-term priority has always been the restoration of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary and we will continue to pursue this goal for the benefit of the millions of people who call this water their backyard.”

Last year, the DEP forced Baykeeper to remove and destroy 30,000 oysters from the bay because New Jersey was not complying with patrol requirements to make sure no shellfish were being harvested from contaminated waters.

Ravit said the group hopes to place oysters in 18 locations along the pier in October, when tidal conditions are at their best.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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