JAMESTOWN (AP) -- The state has begun its largest oyster replenishment in its history hoping to dredge up 1 million bushels of empty oyster shells to redistribute on public oyster grounds.

Natural Resources Secretary Doug Domenech says by the end of July, roughly 1 billion oyster shells will have been returned to public oyster grounds in the James River, Mobjack Bay, the York River and off Tangier Island.

The shells will be the platforms for a new generation of oysters that will remain untouched until they mature to adulthood.

Disease and pollution have greatly diminished native oyster stocks in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The oyster replenishment is funded by $2 million in the state budget.

AP-WF-07-08-13 1610GMT

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