Milford’s NOAA Laboratory is an Aquaculture Leader

Although it has been the site of pioneering work in aquaculture for over 90 years, few Connecticut residents are aware of the lab’s contribution to science, the local and national economy, or even of its existence. The first in a series on NOAA’s Milford Laboratory.

Since our earliest colonial days, New England’s fisherman have been harvesting shellfish commercially of our coasts. And for the last 125 years or so, shellfish aquaculture—the raising shellfish like hard clams, blue mussels, and Eastern oysters in controlled hatcheries—has been a vital economic force on Long Island Sound. Much of the science and technology behind shellfish aquaculture has been developed right here in Connecticut, at the NOAA Fisheries’ Milford Laboratory.

Although it has been the site of pioneering work in aquaculture for over 90 years, few Connecticut residents are aware of the lab’s contribution to science, the local and national economy, or even of its existence.

Victor Loosanoff and his wife Tamara working at the Milford Lab, probably in the mid-1930s.
Victor Loosanoff and his wife Tamara working at the Milford Lab, probably in the mid-1930s.

Federal oyster research began in Milford in 1923 in a shed donated by the Connecticut Oyster Farm Co. on the east shore of Milford Harbor. Interest generated by productive research led to the establishment of a permanent lab on the west side of the Harbor in 1931. The lab’s first director, Victor Loosanoff is considered the father of U.S. shellfish hatcheries. Since its beginning, the Milford Lab has been at the forefront of modern aquaculture science. The unassuming complex is a combination of indoor and outdoor laboratories to test growing and harvesting techniques plus a small dock housing the R/V Victor Loosanoff, a 49-footer outfitted with research gear and a small lab.

Among the Lab’s many contributions to the field of aquaculture science are:

  • Methods of culturing shellfish and microalgae to feed shellfish—known collectively as the “Milford Method”—are used worldwide in scientific and commercial shellfish hatcheries.
  • Loosanoff’s 1963 publication, Rearing of Bivalve Mollusks, a culmination of his years of work at Milford, is still considered to be the most important single work in the field of shellfish aquaculture.
  • The discovery of a bacterial pathogen that kills shellfish larva and has been linked with hypoxia, an important problem in estuaries like Long Island Sound.
  • Other important contributions to algal culturing technology, shellfish pathology, and the effects of low pH on shellfish larvae, which has gained renewed importance with the recent concerns of ocean acidification caused by climate change.

Current research efforts include investigating the impact of shellfish harvesting on Long Island Sound ecology, effects of climate change on shellfish aquaculture, and the potential for using the commercial cultivation of shellfish to reduce nutrient pollution in local waters. The Milford laboratory is an example of the government working for the people, helping the economy by assisting commercial fisheries in developing larger, more efficient, and sustainable yields, and supporting human health with an increased food supply of safer and higher quality.

NOAA Milford hosts an annual open house where people can learn about Long Island Sound and the Lab’s current research activity. Click for more on the Lab’ s history or to visit the Lab’s website.

Aerial photo of Milford Laboratory complex, with Milford Harbor in the fore and backgrounds.
Aerial photo of Milford Laboratory complex, with Milford Harbor in the fore and backgrounds.

Posted by Ken Hamel, Research Intern for Save the Sound
Cover photo by Ned Gerard, CT Post. All others by the Milford Lab.

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