updated 8/14/2007 4:17:55 PM ET 2007-08-14T20:17:55

Members of a Buddhist sect bought hundreds of eels, frogs and turtles and set them free in the Passaic River, hoping they would survive in the once-polluted stream and realize their karmic potential.

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The act did nothing for the karma of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which said the Amitabha Buddhists did not have a permit and may be subject to fines up to $1,000.

Permits are required for releasing critters into the wild, and New Jersey is reluctant to issue them for anything beyond stocking fish ponds because of concern that nonnative species could harm the local ecosystem.

“We’re dead-set against it,” DEP biologist Mark Boriek told the Herald News of West Paterson. “It’s even illegal to stock any kind of carp or goldfish in New Jersey in a place with an inlet or outlet.”

The Passaic has been cleaned up in recent years and Boriek said the animals released Sunday might have a chance of survival.

Authorities said they had not found members of the New York-based Buddhist group yet, but the newspaper said it talked to one member, Ann Chin.

She said their intent was save the animals, bought in New York’s Chinatown, that had been destined for dinner tables.

“When I pass by the fish market, I cry,” Chin said. “I tell people: ‘Stop killing them.’ Then: ‘Don’t eat them.’ Then your heart goes to mercy.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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